"In a final, it's the victory that counts." These words were uttered, with a degree of relief, while purple streamers rained down on the champions at the Cardiff City Stadium.
But Gérard Prêcheur's comment could equally have served as a pre-match forecast as Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint-Germain lined up as opponents for the third time in as many weeks. When the German referee signalled for the ball to start rolling, it soon became apparent that familiarity had bred respect. As Patricia González, one of UEFA's technical observers in Cardiff, remarked: "We saw a match that had been coloured by previous confrontations and which, in many respects, was a repetition of what we had seen in the French Cup final."
Prêcheur, having fielded three at the back during Lyon's semi-final against Manchester City, reverted to the line of four he had deployed in the quarter-final against Wolfsburg, with the ubiquitous Saki Kumagai the most frequent tenant of the holding position in front of the defence. Camille Abily and Dzsenifer Marozsán completed an elastic midfield triangle, while Alex Morgan on the right and Eugénie Le Sommer on the left teamed up with striker Ada Hegerberg to form Lyon's attacking trident.
Patrice Lair, on the other hand, remained loyal to the three centre-back structure that had served Paris well in previous rounds. In Cardiff, however, his wing-backs had their wings clipped by OL's insistent pressure, with the result that PSG spent long periods of the game in an overt 1-5-3-2 formation.
"It was a surprise to see PSG obliged to defend so deep and rely on counterattacking," commented UEFA observer Hope Powell. "The defending was so compact and so deep," added Jarmo Matikainen, "that there was no room for them to play their way out." The consequence was a first half in which Parisian attempts to short-pass their way through the thirds almost invariably led to high-ball regains by Lyon and relentless pressure.
On the other hand, their deep defending was executed with sufficient efficiency to block routes to goal. Katarzyna Kiedrzynek, although on red alert, was not seriously troubled, her positioning and handling allowing her to deal comfortably with attempts from long range. What's more, OL's cutting edge was further blunted when United States international Alex Morgan – passed fit on the eve of the final – was obliged to limp off in the 23rd minute.
Concerned by the pace of her replacement Élodie Thomis, Lair ordered his full-backs to interchange, Ashley Lawrence switching to the left as an antidote to the newcomer. The move was a tacit admission that Paris's game plan was to counter the opposition rather than carry the game to them. "I found it understandable," said Anja Palusevic. "Had I been the coach, I would have done the same."
The investment in deep defence came close to yielding dividends when Paris created the most dangerous chance of the half. With their frontrunners Cristiane and Marie-Laure Delie struggling to make an impact as a partnership, the threat emerged from another source. Bypassing the area of high pressure with a lofted forward pass, Paris's counter was based on a header by Delie into the path of midfielder Shirley Cruz Traña , who capped a powerful run from deep by cutting inside and, teeing up a right-footed shot, forced Sarah Bouhaddi into a crucial save.
It was the highlight of an opening period in which the initial Lyon impetus gradually faded – to the extent that, during the closing minutes, Paris were able to hold a higher line and afford Cruz more opportunities to display her playmaking abilities. Yet at half-time the goal that might have opened up the contest had still to arrive.
When the curtain went up on the second half, it revealed no change of scenery. Another spell of sustained pressure earned OL their best opportunity when a wide free-kick invited Hegerberg, unmarked, to head at goal and, after Kiedrzynek had repelled that effort, to stab the ball wide from close range. Struggling physically, she was then replaced on the hour by midfielder Pauline Bremer, with Le Sommer taking the central striking role in a formation that gravitated towards 1-4-4-1-1.
Lair, meantime, had withdrawn Aminata Diallo from Paris's midfield trio, sending on Verónica Boquete as a more attack-minded linking element in his team's middle-to-front play while Formiga, indefatigable at the age of 39, performed 'worker ant' duties in front of the centre-halves. Almost immediately, Paris again demonstrated their ability to combine the worse of the play with the better of the chances.
Again, Cruz was the protagonist, sliding a through pass into Delie who, with Bouhaddi at her mercy, poked the ball wide of the far post. However, Paris's creative stock was depleted when Cruz, extenuated, made way for defender Laura Georges after 80 minutes, signifying a transfer from centre-back to midfield for Grace Geyoro.
As the action drifted inexorably into extra time, the final became more about patterns than events. Lyon had the ball; Paris had the game plan. Both teams remained loyal to their passing game, using their high levels of technique to twist and turn their way out of trouble and play their way through packed areas. There was quality in abundance. But the talent in both sides cancelled the other out. Paris, although aware that only victory would allow them access to this competition's 2017/18 edition, could not drill deep enough to find fuel for their European dream. For the second successive year, the UEFA Women's Champions League title was to be decided by a penalty shoot-out.
To the delight of the PSG fans behind the goal, Cristiane coolly dispatched the opening spot kick and there was even more delight when Kiedrzynek pushed the fourth penalty, by Le Sommer, onto the bar. Anything you can do ... said Bouhaddi, decisive in the previous year's shoot-out against VfL Wolfsburg. The OL keeper judged correctly to save from Geyoro and herald an equilibrium that lasted until the scoreboard registered 6-6 after a series of penalties taken with aplomb and mental fortitude.
Then, even though three outfielders – two of them fresh subs – remained in the pending tray, Kiedrzynek stepped confidently up to the mark, only to screw her shot wide of the keeper's right post. Anything you can do ... said Bouhaddi, as she placed the ball on the spot and beat Kiedrzynek to secure a 7-6 victory and a successful title defence for Lyon.
Prêcheur, arms outstretched, led the stampede from the OL bench towards Bouhaddi while a disconsolate Kiedrzynek sought refuge on the touchline. While the podium was being assembled on the pitch, she made her way, waving team-mates aside, towards Paris's fans and, in a poignant moment, begged forgiveness. As the purple streamers cascaded on the jubilant champions, and Bouhaddi and skipper Wendie Renard jointly hoisted the trophy into the Cardiff air, Lair could only rue: "I wish things could have worked out differently at the end of a very tactical game." It had been a cruel ending to a final between teams of great quality and equality.