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Midfielder Jérémy Toulalan is convinced Olympique Lyonnais will reach the UEFA Champions League knockout stage and has urged his team-mates to "attack Barcelona as much as possible" in Tuesday's critical Group E encounter.
Lyon endured a disastrous start to their European campaign, losing 3-0 to both FC Barcelona and Rangers FC, but have clambered back to within a point of the Scottish side thanks to successive victories against VfB Stuttgart. Few believed the Ligue 1 leaders had a realistic chance of making the last 16 for a fifth season running following the Rangers defeat at Stade de Gerland, with even their eternally-optimistic president Jean-Michel Aulas announcing that UEFA Cup qualification had become the club's revised target.
'I feel certain'
Toulalan, however, insists the team never lost faith. "We felt sure, even when we lost our first two games, that we would still qualify," said the 24-year-old French international. "We still have a lot of work to do and our chances are probably only rated as 50-50. But everyone in the team is convinced we will qualify. Personally, I feel certain of it."
Such blind belief could prove essential as Lyon go in search of the six points needed to be sure of qualification. Defeat against Barcelona accompanied by a Rangers victory in Stuttgart would spell the end for Alain Perrin's players, rendering their trip to Glasgow on Matchday 6 meaningless. Yet Toulalan's mind-set could hardly be more positive. "The 3-0 defeat in Barcelona has given us extra motivation," he said. "Also, we know Barcelona better now and we'll definitely play to win. We need to attack them as much as possible because they don't like to defend."
Toulalan's hunger is understandable given he only returned to action for his club in Saturday's 2-0 win at Stade Rennais FC following a six-week lay-off with a knee injury. Fábio Santos has performed admirably in front of the defence in his absence but the former FC Nantes Atlantique man is determined to assert himself again. "It's never good to be injured at Lyon because there are quality players around who will take your place," Toulalan admitted. "It's up to the coach to decide who plays but I feel good. Even though I haven't been able to train much with a ball, I've been working hard on my fitness for several weeks."
One player who might not be ready to face Barcelona is Karim Benzema. The 19-year-old striker, who has scored eleven goals in Ligue 1 and one in Europe this term, is suffering from a thigh injury. Toulalan said: "It will be a big blow for Karim and for the team if he misses out. But whatever happens, we know we've got Fred. He played an important role when we beat Real Madrid [CF 2-0 in the group stage last season] and he's starting to find his best form again."
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