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Rapinoe, Lyon fall short to Wolfsburg
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Megan Rapinoe’s Lyon were upset Thursday night by Wolfsburg 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, losing their bid for a Champions League three-peat. Lyon, who had not lost a match in 36 straight games, and were two-time defending European champions, fell on a 73rd minute penalty from Martina Muller.
The loss meant that Rapinoe was denied the chance to become the first American to start in and win a Champions League medal, and snapped a fierce Lyon streak that had seen them steamroll through Europe for almost three straight seasons.
But what a difference a year makes. Last year, Lyon strolled to a win in the Munich sunshine, downing Frankfurt 2-0 in a match that was decided inside twenty minutes. There, it felt like a nice afternoon out, with families and flags in abundance – but nothing like an actual soccer match. Part of that might have been due to Lyon’s dominance relative to their opponents. The truth was that neither team looked like they really grasped the fundamentals of the game.
Thursday’s match left little doubt that both teams could play. It was quick, the passing was sharp and mistakes were punished. There was little tackling, but a lot of speed as both teams tried to use flank play to pry open two solid defenses and two standup keepers. In the end, it was Wolfsburg’s stout back four that decided the match in a game that saw errors ruthlessly punished. If Saturday’s match lives up to what a small crowd witnessed on Thursday night, it will indeed be a treat.
Though Lyon were heavy favorites coming into the game, Wolfsburg never looked cowed and tested Sarah Bouhaddi in the first minutes when Nadine Kessler nearly snuck a ball inside her right post. But Lyon slowly grew in confidence, with Rapinoe given an enormous amount of freedom wide left. When she and Lotta Schelin, cutting inside on the right, were able to link up, the tandem gave keeper Alisa Vetterlein problems.
Rapinoe had the first half’s closest chance when her header nearly trickled over the line before Josephine Henning was able to kick it away. And Rapinoe and Amandine Henry nearly struck early when the American curled in a corner that was headed just wide of the upright. But the best chances – and the worst misses – fell to Camille Abily, and it was her inability to get a shot on frame that doomed the French side.
Rapinoe was subbed off after the first half, a decision that manager Patrice Lair may live to regret. Without her presence, Lyon grew static and Abily’s misses grew worse. The normally influential Louisa Necib totally faded out of the game. Even substitute Lara Dickenmann offered little, and Wolfsburg’s break became more insistent.
Then, in the 71st minute, a ball was lofted into the Lyon Box. Wendie Renard went up to head it, missed, and the ball caromed off Laura Georges’ arm. It looked soft at first but the ref thought she had used her hand to control the ball. As a result, Muller blasted the awarded penalty over Sarah Bouhaddi.
Lyon wilted. Necib showed a little spark in the area but Vetterlein wasn’t seriously tested. Wolfsburg’s ran the French side simply out of gas. As Wolfsburg subbed their players out, the effort they had expended was visible for all to see: Zsanett Jakabfi couldn’t walk; Conny Pohlers was so stricken by cramps that she tottered into her seat and collapsed.
At the end, Lyon’s Schlein graciously answered questions as the Wolfsburg players leapt behind her in a pile at midfield. The rain stopped long enough for the Germans to get their medals. Sonia Bompastor played keepy-up with two small children while she held her runner’s-up medal.
Georges stayed on for a long time, looking downfield at the other net.
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