By Mark Chaplin at Stade Gerland
Thrilling comebacks against the odds are part and parcel of football's romance. They add to the annals of the game, and every fan who has been privileged to witness them stands taller for years afterwards, when he sits in front of the fire and tells his grandchildren: "I was there."
For two weeks, Werder Bremen harboured the impossible dream of keeping their UEFA Champions League adventure alive in improbable circumstances. That dream was reduced to ashes in stunning fashion as Olympique Lyonnais, 3-0 up from the first knockout round first leg, made short work of their German guests to reach the quarter-finals - Sylvain Wiltord the chief architect with a hat-trick.
A 7-2 scoreline on the night, and 10-2 on aggregate, represents a crystal-clear signal that the French champions mean serious Champions League business. Over the years, Bremen have produced a catalogue of recoveries having received the last rites. One of the most memorable was against the 'Lyonnais'. In the 1999/00 UEFA Cup Bremen overturned a 3-0 first-leg deficit to romp to a 4-0 win and qualification in the return match. However, that feat took place in Bremen; this time around, the German champions were away from home, with surely no chance of redemption.
Le Guen cautious
But Bremen still struck fear into Lyon hearts as a result of that calamitous meeting five years ago, and it was no wonder that their pragmatic coach Paul Le Guen preached "caution and humility" before kick-off.
Whatever Thomas Schaaf's own private thoughts were about his team’s prospects, the Bremen coach made a public statement of bold intent by fielding three strikers - Ivan Klasnic, Nelson Valdez and Miroslav Klose.
However, Bremen's optimism lasted just eight minutes. Their flimsy covering allowed Wiltord to gallop clear and stretch the aggregate lead to 4-0. The game was up for the German side. They kept ploughing forward hopefully in search of a miracle, but Lyon were able to pick them off ruthlessly on the counterattack.
The home side posed a constant threat, and powerful midfield player Michael Essien lashed a 20-metre drive into the corner of the net just past the quarter-hour. Proceedings had now become a mere formality.
Worse followed for Bremen as they faltered alarmingly. The excellent Essien - a real prospect on this showing - made it three on the half-hour. A real rout looked likely even at that stage, but German pride was at least still intact. Johan Micoud reduced the arrears against his compatriots to complete a breathless first half.
With the outcome clear, the second half was for the statisticians, but crazily entertaining all the same. Bremen, pushed forward by their professional consciences, strove to gather crumbs of consolation from the evening, while Lyon could bolster their confidence for tough domestic and European battles ahead.
A procession of goals kept the cold at bay and gave the excited locals their money's worth. Wiltord made it 4-1 for the hosts, Valérien Ismaël replied from the penalty spot for Bremen, Florent Malouda joyfully hammered in a French fifth, and Wiltord completed his treble before exiting to tumultuous applause.
Jéremy Berthod put further icing on Lyon's cake with a penalty for the seventh, and the home crowd stayed behind long after the end to cheer their heroes to the rafters. Le Guen's outfit had laid past ghosts to rest in a thrilling display of attacking potency that the other teams in the competition would do well to heed.
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