FC Slovan Liberec could add the name of Olympique Lyonnais to their growing list of victims in the UEFA Cup after they held the top French club to a 1-1 draw at the Gerland stadium in the first leg of their fourth-round meeting. Indeed, the Czech side were within seconds of celebrating a famous victory, when substitute Sidney Govou half-volleyed an equaliser.
Their biggest scalp
So far in the competition, Slovan have accounted for SK Slovan Bratislava, RC Celta de Vigo and RCD Real Mallorca but Lyon, who were competing in the UEFA Champions League this season, would be arguably their biggest scalp of all. However, the tie is not quite over just yet. Lyon deserved their draw and no doubt they will think they deserved more than that for their non-stop assault on the Slovan goal in the second half. Indeed, they must still be wondering how they did not manage to score earlier, most notably on the hour.
Scratching their heads
Taking deliberate aim, Juninho Pernambucano had hit the crossbar but it was what happened next that left Lyon scratching their heads for an answer. The ball rebounded off the bar and on to the goalline where Pegguy Luyindula, following up, seemed certain to score. However, Vaclav Kolousek managed to get a thigh in the way and the ball rebounded back up against the underside of the bar and eventually away to safety. A minute later, Pierre Laigle, the substitute, was striking that same stubborn bar with a cross-shot.
Diligently though they defended, Slovan did much of their best work in the first half when they drew Lyon's fire after taking an early lead through a penalty. Before going ahead, and after just 90 seconds of the match had elapsed, Slovan had big shouts for a penalty turned down. The understanding between Jan Nezmar and the man of the match Jirí Štajner sometimes bordered on the telepathic and when the former toe-poked the ball through to his team-mate, Štajner thought he had won a penalty when he collided with Grégory Coupet.
The referee was having none of it then, but 13 minutes later he found it impossible to ignore Slovan's appeals. On this occasion Štajner was brought down by Patrick Müller. He took the penalty kick himself and finished with calm assurance. Composure marked much of Slovan's play in the first half as Lyon struggled to get any sort of fluency into their game. The Czech side had come straight from a famous double over their country's champions AC Sparta Praha, and were brimful of confidence.
Sonny Anderson, Lyon's renowned Brazilian striker, had done very little until the 39th minute when a deft back-heel wrong-footed the Slovan defence. It enabled Luyindula to break clear but he shot wastefully wide. Had Nezmar connected cleanly with a ball which Štajner played across the face of goal early in the second half there might have been no way back for Lyon. As it was, the near-thing served to prick Lyon's conscience and from that point they subjected the visitors' goal to almost ceaseless bombardment. It was to Slovan's great credit that they refused to buckle.
Lyon had also come into the game on the back of a good performance, a 3-0 win against Paris Saint-Germain FC which put them within two points of the French league leaders, RC Lens. The tireless Eric Carrière and Juninho never gave up and the two combined beautifully after 80 minutes when the former attempted to flick a free-kick from the Brazilian into the net with the back of his heel. The ball, however, sailed fractionally over.
Through the heart
Govou's pace had brought renewed hope and for a moment it seemed that he had produced the equaliser after 88 minutes with a header, but Antonín Kinský got down well to turn the ball around a post. A minute later he fastened on to a ball through the heart of the Slovan defence from Juninho and muscled his way past Miroslav Holenák to despatch a half-volley wide of Kinský. It was a cruel blow to the Slovan players but no more than Lyon deserved.
'Complicated our lives'
The second leg should be interesting, and Lyon coach Jacques Santini was only too aware of the challenge now facing his team. "With this draw we have complicated our lives for the second-leg match," he said. "However, the fact that we found the equaliser in stoppage time limits the damage. We were certainly not taken by surprise by the playing style of the Czechs. We knew that they are very strong when playing away from home. They are a team who always push forward."
His opposite number, Ladislav Škorpil of Slovan, was understandbly happier with the draw. "We're quite satisfied with the result," he said. "We have obtained it with hard work and a great fighting spirit. We also were a bit lucky considering that Lyon hit the bar three times. However, our team was able to resist Lyon's pressure thanks to our good individual technique. We knew that Lyon are a dangerous side up to the very last second of the match. For the second leg match I estimate our chances at 50-50."