Fábio Santos marked his UEFA Champions League debut with a goal as Olympique Lyonnais revived aspirations of progress from Group E with a hard-fought 2-0 victory at VfB Stuttgart.
Having lost each of their opening fixtures the sides came into the game six points behind FC Barcelona and Rangers FC, knowing only a win would do and after a cautious first half it was the visitors who prevailed. Only playing due to a late injury to Jérémy Toulalan, Santos broke the deadlock on 56 minutes and Karim Benzema made the points safe eleven minutes from time, combining with Sidney Govou and rifling in as Stuttgart were left with a mountain to climb.
Given their disappointing starts to the campaign, the caution both teams displayed in the early stages was understandable, packing the midfield as they sought to give nothing away. Yet after 13 tentative minutes Govou broke the shackles, drawing defenders to the right flank before feeding the advancing Anthony Réveillère in the channel. The full-back cut in to deliver a low cross and, though that was well blocked at the front post with Benzema lurking, the tone was set.
Stuttgart responded in kind. Having played as a makeshift left-back at the weekend, it was Alexander Farnerud, restored to a more attacking role, who provided the impetus. His free-kick forced a last-ditch clearance and moments later he drifted a centre to the edge of the box which Silvio Meissner met with a speculative header. Given how much this result meant to both sides, it was worth a try; and such a mindset had apparently infected the visitors as Kim Källström hit a swerving effort from 30 metres that Raphael Schäfer did well to keep out so convincingly.
For all the endeavour, quality was lacking although Hatem Ben Arfa was a notable exception. With half-time approaching he became more expansive, and his adroit lay-off to Benzema might have set up the opener on 40 minutes but with only Schäfer to beat the striker scuffed his chip. Credit also went to the goalkeeper, who was called on again before the interval, diving at the feet of Govou as Lyon ended the half on top.
If the break could not come soon enough for Stuttgart, the 15 minutes spent inside apparently had a rejuvenating effect on the Bundesliga champions as they began the second period with purpose, with makeshift right-back Roberto Hilbert leading the way. Lyon were pegged back, but as in the first half, Govou released the pressure, advancing to the edge of the Stuttgart area and earning a corner which proved decisive.
Pressure pays off
Juninho Pernambucano delivered it to the penalty spot and though Ricardo Osorio stabbed the ball away from Fabio Grosso, it went only as far as Santos who fired in from the edge of the box. Benzema sealed the points late on and another victory when the teams meet again in France on 7 November will bring Lyon right back into UEFA Champions League contention. Stuttgart, however, have it all to do.