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For the first time since 2003 there are no French teams in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League, much to the nation's dismay.
Since the introduction of the first knockout round in 2003/04 at least one Ligue 1 side has made it to the quarter-finals, but that changed this season after both champions Olympique Lyonnais and ambitious LOSC Lille Métropole were knocked out following this week's second legs. "On Friday in Athens, the final UEFA Champions League draw will take place," reported French sports newspaper L'Equipe on Thursday morning - with a tinge of regret. "The best sides will be involved but not the French champions or their challengers."
Lyon were the biggest disappointment of the week. Having drawn 0-0 at AS Roma in the first leg, they surprisingly lost 2-0 at home, failing to score in two consecutive UEFA Champions League ties for the first time since they lost to NK Maribor in the third qualifying round in their first appearance in the competition back in 1999.
It was a major blow for Gérard Houllier's side, but Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas insisted they do not have time to be downhearted. "Losing to Roma is a disappointment but it's not a serious blow," he said. "When you are building something solid and long-lasting, such knocks must be overcome. And we'll overcome it with our best year ever if we win the double - a [sixth successive] league title and the French League Cup [where they face FC Girondins de Bordeaux in the final on 31 March]. We still have plenty to do this season."
Lille's defeat against Manchester United FC may have been less of a shock but it was perhaps more painful, with Claude Puel's side remaining in with a chance of forcing the game into extra time until Henrik Larsson put United ahead with 20 minutes to go at Old Trafford. Nonetheless, having advanced through the group stage for the first time at the third attempt, Puel has reason to be satisfied with his work. "The main aim from now is to get back into the competition," he said. "It is the only way to do justice to all the things we learned this season."
The end of the second group stage was a major lift to French clubs, who generally lacked the financial might and depth of squad to deal with prolonged competition against Europe's biggest sides. But while things have not worked out for them this season, French interest in the competition is not over. The nation's continued ability to discover and nurture new talent is reflected in the fact that 12 French players are spread across seven of the eight sides still in the competition. No French teams will be in Friday's draw, but the tricolore could yet be flying at the final in Athens.
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