By Matthew Spiro
As Olympique Lyonnais demolished AC Sparta Praha 5-0 in their final UEFA Champions League game of 2004, it was the form of some of Paul Le Guen's younger players that caught the eye.
With his team already sure of a place in the last 16, Le Guen took the opportunity to field some of his less experienced players against the Czech champions, and the results will have left Lyon's opponents in the last 16 - Werder Bremen - feeling distinctly uncomfortable.
Midfield players Jérémy Clément, 20, and Bryan Bergougnoux, 21, were both given their Champions League debuts in a side with an average age of under 23. Bergougnoux proved to be the game's star performer, prompting wild celebrations when he scored his side's fifth goal.
"We were all a bit disappointed that Bryan hadn't scored earlier so when his shot went in everyone in the dugout went crazy," said Le Guen. "We were so pleased for him because his performance merited a goal. He's developing nicely and that goal is a reward for all the hard work he has done."
A product of Lyon's youth academy, Bergougnoux, who has scored seven goals in ten games for the France Under-21s, started on the right flank but frequently drifted infield. His exemplary technique and shrewd passing was a major factor in the thrilling, free-flowing football that Lyon produced.
It looked as though Bergougnoux would have to wait a little longer for his first senior goal when, after seeing two first-half shots saved by the goalkeeper, he blazed over late on. But moments later he took Anthony Réveillère's pass brilliantly down on his chest and applied a cool finish.
"I knew I was going to score," said a delighted Bergougnoux, who had linked up well with Florent Malouda, Nilmar and Pierre-Alain Frau throughout. "I was so angry I'd missed the chance just before, I was determined to make amends.
If I'd missed again I think I'd have given up football there and then!"
There were other impressive young performers on display too. Jérémy Berthod and Nilmar, both 20, had almost opened the scoring after combining to good effect in the fifth minute, but the home fans were celebrating soon afterwards when Michael Essien, himself just 22, headed in Bergougnoux's corner.
There was no respite for the visitors, Nilmar helping himself to two goals before 20-year-old Sylvain Idangar made his first senior appearance as a 66th-minute substitute and scored his first goal and Lyon's fourth 17 minutes later
"I wasn't sure if all the young players were ready, but I should never have doubted them," said Le Guen, whose side finished top of their group ahead of Manchester United FC. "Some of the football we played was exceptional, and it was a real pleasure to see the youngsters enjoying themselves and performing so well."
France U21 defender Berthod said the performance was a reflection of the quality of the coaching in the club's youth ranks. "It was great that the job was completed by youth-team graduates," explained the left-back. "That just shows what a great job the coaches in the youth academy are doing."
'Dream come true'
Meanwhile, goalscoring debutant Idangar added: "It's unbelievable. To get on and score is a dream come true. It's been a wonderful evening." Considering the quality of the young talent at Lyon, there are likely to be many more "wonderful evenings" in the future.
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