By Matthew Spiro at Stade Gerland
A youthful Olympique Lyonnais side produced a dynamic performance against AC Sparta Praha on Wednesday, sealing a victory which sees them finish as Group D winners.
An early goal from Michael Essien followed by a Nilmar double and late strikes from Sylvain Idangar and Bryan Bergougnoux capped a blistering display from the French champions, who moved above Manchester United FC after the English side were beaten 3-0 by third-placed Fenerbahçe SK.
Chance for duo
As promised, Paul Le Guen handed midfield duo Bergougnoux and Jérémy Clément, 21 and 20 respectively, their first Champions League starts in a much-changed lineup. With Claudio Caçapa injured and Sidney Govou rested, Mahmadou Diarra took the captain's armband while Essien lined up in central defence alongside Lamine Diatta. There was also a second consecutive start for Brazilian striker Nilmar, partnering Pierre-Alain Frau. Sparta made two changes, with defender Jirí Homola coming in for Aleš Urbánek and midfield player Karel Poborský replacing Jan Rezek.
Wednesday evening marked the traditional 'Fête des Lumières' in Lyon and there were plenty of fireworks inside the Stade Gerland early on. The home side could have scored inside five minutes, Jérémy Berthod breaking up the left and crossing for Frau whose shot was blocked. The loose ball dropped to Nilmar but his overhead kick was brilliantly saved by Jaromír Blazek.
The Sparta goalkeeper produced another fine stop from Florent Malouda two minutes later but Lyon were in rampant mood and broke the deadlock from the resulting corner. Bergougnoux's right-footed cross found Essien unmarked at the near post and the Ghanaian duly registered his third Champions League goal of the season with a powerful header.
Lyon's movement was too much for Sparta and they looked capable of scoring from every attack. Anthony Réveillere picked out Malouda in the penalty area but his low shot was blocked by a sprawling Blazek, once again exposed by his defenders. Blazek was the culprit in the 19th minute, however, making a good save from Diatta's header only to lose concentration as he fell to ground. The ball slipped from Blazek's grasp and Nilmar gratefully prodded home Lyon's second.
The one-way traffic continued as Bergougnoux swept Frau's left-wing cross narrowly past the near post midway through the first half. Bergougnoux had an even better chance five minutes later, but scuffed his shot after Malouda had picked him out. Malouda, frequently roaming in from the left, was proving elusive for the Sparta defenders and moments later he set up Nilmar whose side-foot shot flashed wide of the post. Malouda then had a chance to put the game beyond the visitors shortly before the interval but he failed to keep his shot down.
Sparta started the second half with more determination and soon created their first chance of the game, but Lyon goalkeeper Nicholas Puydebois kept Lukáš Zelenka’s low shot out with his feet. Any hopes the Czech side had of staging a comeback were extinguished in the 51st minute as Lyon added a third. Frau surged infield from the right and when Blazek failed to hold his stinging shot, Nilmar was once again ideally placed to ease the ball in for his fourth goal of the competition.
An announcement that Fenerbahçe were beating United was met by a hearty cheer from the Lyon supporters whose evening was capped off by two late goals. First substitute Idangar latched on to a return pass from Frau and finished with aplomb before Bergougnoux added another in added time as Sparta depart without victory.