Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beautiful Game, Fairer Sex, Yadda Yadda Yadda...

This Saturday sees the epic clash between Bayern München and Chelsea – the latter responsible for dashing the hopes of those wanting to see Barcelona to be the first team to win back-to-back Champion’s League trophies.


On Thursday 17 May, we might still see that happen*, as Olympic Lyon take on FFC Frankfurt in the Women’s Champion’s League Final 2012, at the Olympiastadion in Munich.    

(Good job it's across town, or they'd have to be sure to leave the turf tidy. Didier might trip.) 

Lyon are the defending champions, with a strong record in the competition; semi-finalists in 2008 and 2009 and finalists in 2010 (losing to Potsdam on penalties), before winning last year’s get-your-own-back clash 2-0 at Craven Cottage against Potsdam, who they also beat in this year’s semi-finals. 

Potsdam were in fact the only team not to lose – indeed, the only team to score an actual goal - against the reigning French champions, with the two legs running out 5-1 and 0-0.

Lyon have been scoring like, erm, high-scoring things in this year’s campaign – beating both Olympia Cluj and Sparta Prague 12-0 on aggregate (yes, each) before easing off to beat Brondby only 8-0 on aggregate in the quarter finals.  Thus, their tally over the eight games played so far is 37 for, 1 against, and Eugénie Le Sommer and Camille Abily are joint top scorers in the competition with 8 apiece.  Woof.  They can also call on the talents of a fair proportion of the French national team, currently top of their group for the Euro 2013 qualifiers with 18 points (context: Scotland are second on 7) – 11 of the currrent 21 Bleues are from OL.

Frankfurt have been rather less prolific, beating both Stabaek and PSG 4-2 on aggregate and then Malmo 3-1 in the quarters, before managing their only dual win of the campaign over Arsenal in the semi-finals, finishing 4-1 on aggregate.  They, thus, don’t make the top scorer charts, with former German international midfielder Kerstin Garefrekes top on 4.  They have 4 current German internationals on their side.

Looking at Lyon’s results, both in this competition and domestically, does point up one noticeable problem with the women’s game – the smaller nature of the game in simple number terms means a bigger gulf in class between teams.  There is a massive drop off in Division 1 in France between the top four (traditionally those who make up the French national team – Lyon, Juvisy, PSG and Montpellier) and the rest.  Lyon’s last five games in the league? 7-0, 3-0, 4-0, 8-0, 6-0. They have a goal difference of +100 at the moment. So, well done Muret, for keeping it down to three (they’re bottom of the table). 

Meanwhile, Frankfurt, runners up last season, are fourth in the Frauen Bundesliga, which also shows a big split between the top four (Potsdam, Duisburg, Wolfsburg are above them) and the rest. They however are less dominant – they most recently got beaten by Potsdam 3-1; given the current domestic league positions and the history of the Women’s CL more generally, Lyon might legitimately be feeling that they have got the hardest challenge out of the way already.

The stats suggest a convincing win for Lyon is on the cards, and going for >2,5 goals would look safe (which is why it’s 27/40 at present).  The odds at the time of writing are OL 4/7, draw 14/5, Frankfurt 15/4 – I’ve gone for Lyon to win 4-1 at 22/1, just to have something to aim for.  

What I remember most from last year’s clash was the close control, a precise short-passing game, the commentator making the inevitable ‘fox in the box’ joke when Wendy Renard scored, and an epic performance by Sarah Bouhaddi in the Lyon goal, thus giving the lie to the stereotype that women, being short, are shit goalies. Think about it – Wayne Hennessy’s 6 ft 6. He’s not very good.  Anyway, I am hoping for more of the same, plus goals goals goals, and for Lyon to retain their crown. 

As well as the goalscorers, key players for Lyon will be Louisa Necib, defenders Wendy Renard and Sonia Bompastor, and for Frankfurt, Fatmire Bajramaj and, inevitably, goalkeeper Desirée Schumann (standing in since the quarter-finals for knee-knacked German international Nadine Angerer).  They may not be given much chance, but if Frankfurt can get an early goal, that would keep things interesting.

The game is being shown on Direct 8 in France, ARD in Germany, and Eurosport in the UK and US.  I will be live-tweeting the game for @FrenchFtWeekly , hoping that Frankfurt's Ana Maria Crnogorčević has a quiet match.

*Technically, it’s already happened – this is only the third season for the Women’s Champion’s League; before that, it was called the UEFA Women’s Cup, won in 2003 and 2004 by Umeå IK from Sweden.  Although that also means that certain bands of men have also managed the back-to-back thing (easy...) pre-1992 when the competition was the European Cup.