Juninho Pernambucano believes Olympique Lyonnais are capable of mounting a serious challenge for the UEFA Champions League after beginning their campaign with an impressive win against Real Madrid CF at Stade Gerland.
Quarter-finalists for the last three seasons and playing in the group stage for the seventh year in a row, Lyon kicked off their latest bid for Europe's top prize in virtually identical fashion to last term. While the French champions were convincing 3-0 victors over Madrid 12 months ago, they had to settle for a 2-0 scoreline on Wednesday but might easily have won more handsomely.
The 31-year-old Juninho, who captained the side in the absence of Claudio Caçapa, was delighted with the performance. "Last year we scored three times in the first half, this time we managed two," he told uefa.com. "We began at a fast pace, as we like to do at Stade Gerland, and we could have scored even more goals in the first half. Unlike us, Madrid have only recently begun their domestic season and we seemed to be better prepared than them physically."
'A great team'
Most of the pre-match talk surrounded the new-look Madrid, with many predicting the arrivals of Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson from Juventus and Mahamadou Diarra from Lyon would give the Spanish giants a tougher spine. But Gérard Houllier's men, inspired by their evergreen Brazilian, proved a handful again. "I'm not worried about Madrid," Juninho said. "They have a great team and soon they will be very hard to beat. Perhaps it was a good time to play them. I don't know. But when we play like we did we are very hard to stop, whoever we play."
Another recurring theme were Juninho's mesmerising free-kicks. He beat Iker Casillas with a trademark set-piece in last season's tie, and though he did not score this time, his swerving dead-ball delivery wreaked havoc on numerous occasions. "I had a lot to take because my team-mates played very positively," Juninho said. "Florent Malouda and Sidney Govou ran at their opponents all the time and Fred was always on the move. I work on my free-kicks all the time and I was pleased tonight because I got most of them on target."
'A great start'
Lyon are well placed in Group E ahead of trips to FC Steaua Bucuresti and FC Dynamo Kyiv, and Juninho said: "It's a great start and will give us confidence. We've shown we can play well and win without Diarra and that's important. But let's not get carried away. There are still five matches to play and lots of work to be done."
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