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Lyon reach UWCL final again, exposing weakness of rivals PSG

Written by on April 29, 2024

PARIS — Imagine being one of the top two teams in your domestic league — being better by far than anyone else in your country apart from your archrivals. This other team who shares with you a similar budget, a squad similarly constructed of international players from France, the U.S., Germany or other top football nations, great staffs and facilities.

You are one of these two clubs, but you are frequently the losers in this historic rivalry. You’re dominated more than you are dominant, playing catch-up in your head-to-heads and almost always losing the big games against them.

This is the story of Paris Saint-Germain, who again suffered a harsh reality check in the UEFA Women’s Champions League on Sunday. Lyon, the other member of this two-step waltz, knocked them out of the competition after a 2-1 win at the Parc des Princes in the semifinal second leg, a 5-3 win on aggregate.

Yet again. Just like in 2022 and 2020 in the semifinals, or in 2017 in the final, it is Lyon who continually gets the best in this storied rivalry in the Champions League.

Les Parisiennes faithful will be quick to point out that PSG won in 2021 on away goals, but that was definitely a one-off. More often than not — too often, even — Lindsey Horan & Co. of Lyon are just too strong, too confident and too good.

It was the case again on Sunday. After turning the first leg on its head with three goals in six minutes starting in the 80th to win 3-2, Les Lyonnaises quickly silenced the crowd of 30,000 at Parc des Princes by taking the lead after four minutes in the second leg. Even when the Parisiennes came back at 1-1, Lyon never really suffered — instead, they controlled the game well to even find a winner with Melchie Dumornay, the 20-year-old wonderkid from Haiti, who was incredible on Sunday and decided to join Lyon from Reims last summer when she also had an offer from PSG on the table.

The story of this rivalry is also in the legacy that Lyon have. They are the DNA of French women’s football. They were the pioneer club 20 years ago, way before PSG tried to compete with the arrival of the money from Qatar in 2011. So, when Dumornay had to choose between PSG or Lyon, she chose Lyon. When Kadidiatou Diani had to make her mind up between staying in the capital or going to the rival, she picked Lyon.

PSG’s wealthy owners have spent millions of euros trying to bridge the gap, signing world-class players and changing managers to hit on the right balance. Those efforts have found some success — they have made a lot of progress in the past few years. However, when they come close, like in 2021 when they managed to win the league by one point over their rivals, it has never lasted, and they can’t stay on top consistently. With Lyon as their counterpart, there seems to be a limit on how far PSG can go.

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“We are trying to bridge the gap,” Jocelyn Prêcheur, the PSG manager in his first season as the main coach, said on Sunday. “I feel we are doing the right things for it and we are getting closer, but it’s still not enough, clearly.”

For Sonia Bompastor, his Lyon counterpart, it’s another final and a potential other trophy before leaving the club to take over Chelsea from Emma Hayes, who is departing to coach Horan and the U.S. women’s national team.

The good omen for Bompastor and Lyon is that the two times they knocked out PSG in the semifinals, they went on to win the final, including once against Barcelona, in 2022. This will be their 11th Champions League final in the past 15 years, an incredible tally. They have won eight out of 10 so far in their history, including the last six. They will face Barcelona again, in Bilbao on May 25, to try to make it a Magnificent Seven.

While Lyon prepare for that final next Monday, Sunday will linger as a harsh reminder for PSG that there are two things you can’t buy in football: history and heritage. That’s still the difference right now between Lyon and PSG.

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