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French trio aim to bounce back

Published: Thursday 28 November 2002, 18.04CET
Olympique Lyonnais FC, RC Lens and AJ Auxerre hope the UEFA Cup marks an upturn in fortunes.
Published: Thursday 28 November 2002, 18.04CET

French trio aim to bounce back

Olympique Lyonnais FC, RC Lens and AJ Auxerre hope the UEFA Cup marks an upturn in fortunes.

By Simon Hart

A free header spurned by Sonny Anderson in the final moments of Olympique Lyonnais' match at Rosenborg BK meant the difference between progress in the UEFA Champions League and a place in the UEFA Cup.

French contingent
That miss sealed Lyon's fate, the 1-1 draw in Norway leaving the French champions third in their group and so putting them in the hat for the UEFA Cup third round. There they form part of the tournament's largest contingent, one of five French teams along with two other sides eliminated from the Champions League, RC Lens and AJ Auxerre, as well as FC Girondins de Bordeaux and Paris Saint-Germain FC.

Lorient's conquerors
Lyon's quest begins in southwest Turkey at Denizlispor, a side playing their first European campaign who have already accounted for one French team, FC Lorient, in the first round. Denizlispor coach Riza Calimbay has described this as a "historic test", and Lyon coach Paul Le Guen knows it will not be easy.

'A difficult match'
"It will be a difficult match against an aggressive side on a pitch that's not in the best state." The perfect conditions, it would seem, for an upset, hence Le Guen's insistence that "we will have to show why we're favourites and play at our maximum in both matches". Lyon, second in Ligue 1, have now leaked six goals in three  matches following last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Lille OSC.

Govou returns
Their prospects are not helped by the absence of Sonny Anderson, who is injured along with defender Jérémie Bréchet. However, French international Sidney Govou has recovered from a thigh problem and Brazilians Edmilson and Junior also return against opponents missing suspended defender Hakan Çimen.

Muller sets target
Lens's last European tie, meanwhile, was the 3-3 Champions League draw at FC Bayern München a fortnight ago. Victories at home to RC Deportivo La Coruña and AC Milan did not prove enough and now they visit Portuguese league leaders FC Porto. However, those wins mean Lens, UEFA Cup semi-finalists in 2000, travel with confidence. Coach Joël Muller said: "Our aim is to score at least one goal and we will have to play the same as against Milan or Deportivo."

Late training
In preparation for the late kick-off (22.30CET) in Portugal, Lens - defeated at Olympique de Marseille on Saturday - have been training until midnight but it does not help Muller that he is without the injured Pape Bouba Diop and Cyril Rool, and also has doubts over Rigobert Song.

Learning curve
There are few such worries for Auxerre ahead of the tie against Real Betis Balompié - Khalilou Fadiga is the sole doubt having missed the weekend win at Le Havre AC. Guy Roux's side enter the UEFA Cup having leapfrogged PSV Eindhoven with victory over BV Borussia Dortmund in their final Champions League match, and Roux believes they are stronger for the experience. "We played eight games in the Champions League and gradually got a lot of experience from those matches," he said.

Unkind conditions
Auxerre were greeted in Seville by unusually inclement conditions of cold and rain. Their journey was no better - an eleven-hour ordeal involving a delayed flight from Geneva - but facing a Betis side with doubts over Capi and Denilson, they will hope to head home with more reason to be cheerful.

Last updated: 28/11/02 20.22CET

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