Barcelona were let off the hook, says Puel

Lyons coach fears worst after missed chances cost French side precious victory
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The Independent Online

The Lyons midfielder Juninho and coach Claude Puel rued the missed chances that cost their side victory against Barcelona in Tuesday's Champions League first knock-out round first-leg match, which finished 1-1.

Lyons' failure to hold on to a lead cost them dearly last season when Manchester United secured a late equaliser to draw 1-1 at Stade Gerland, and then eliminated the French champions with a 1-0 home win.

That was under former coach Alain Perrin, but Puel acknowledged he had a similar sinking feeling that his team "was not able to make the breakthrough" and could fall short again. "When you are on top, you have to be able to score," Puel lamented. "After that, we dropped back, we suffered, but we had put so much effort in [to scoring another goal]."

Lyons' much coveted striker Karim Benzema was, for once, the main culprit and lacked his usual clinical streak. "It's true that we can have some regrets," Juninho said. "We had the chances to score a second goal."

Lyons now face a daunting trip to Barcelona's Nou Camp on 11 March, without the cushion of a win and the psychological boost that comes with converting chances at home.

Juninho gave Lyons the lead after seven minutes, then just a minute later Benzema sprinted clear and wasted a golden chance to make it 2-0. Benzema later hit the post as Lyons put Barça under intense pressure only for victory to slip away.

When Benzema sped through with only goalkeeper Victor Valdes to beat, most of Stade Gerland assumed the 21-year-old France striker would plant the ball into the net like he did against Nancy in domestic action on Sunday. Instead, he aimed for the far corner and his scuffed shot was deflected wide for a corner.

"We missed a second goal, which would have put this Barcelona team in doubt. Things would have been different at 2-0. Now Barcelona is more favourite than ever," Juninho said. "At this level, you have to be at your best going forward and try and score when you get the chance. It's a shame. We had this opportunity, but we lacked the final touch or the final pass."

Benzema's failure to score the second goal could even impact on his own future – he has hinted several times that he could leave Lyons if they fail to reach at least the Champions League semi-finals.

"I'd be more inclined to stay if we go through," Benzema had told L'Equipe ahead of the Barcelona game, adding that he will have a clearer idea after the return leg. With 12 Champions League goals in only 18 appearances, Lyons will not be short of offers should the striker decide his ambitions are best served elsewhere.

Lyons have never been beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League and to reach the last eight now, they need to beat Barça or score at least twice in a draw. That will be difficult against a Barcelona team possessing the most potent strikeforce in Europe, having scored 71 goals in 24 La Liga matches this season – twice as many as Lyons in the French league – and 105 goals in all competitions.

Although Barcelona put themselves on course for the quarter-finals they could be beginning to feel the effects of a long season. Barça, whose La Liga lead has been cut from 12 to seven points in the last two weeks, have now gone three matches without a win, after drawing with Real Betis and losing to Espanyol.

"It's just that we were a bit worn out," midfielder Yaya Touré said. "We needed a bit more time to recuperate after Saturday's game. It is a long season and we had to play some 60 minutes with 10 men against Espanyol at the weekend," he added, referring to Seydou Keita's 38th-minute red card at the Nou Camp. "We are playing in all competitions and at this stage of the season it is not easy from a physical point of view."

Barça were without dependable left-back Eric Abidal, who suffered a groin injury on Saturday, and influential midfielder Andres Iniesta, who had a thigh strain, on Tuesday. Lionel Messi, who has not scored in their last five games, was also kept quiet by Jean-Alain Boumsong.

Thierry Henry scored their equaliser in the second half and he said: "Did we eventually wear them down ? No, because we did not score a beautiful goal as we often do in La Liga. Before, Barça would not score a lot from set-pieces. But this season we have been working on that a lot and it paid off."

Touré was confident his team would be ready for Sunday's league game at Atletico Madrid. "We have some time to recuperate and our performance in Lyons is encouraging. It's good for the Atletico game," he said.

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