Jose Mourinho may have insisted pre-match that the past was just that, but it was a ghost from Lyons' past that saw Real Madrid emerge happier from a tight encounter here last night. Karim Benzema's instant impact was due acknowledgement that something special was required to end Real's barren run in this corner of eastern France, even if Bafetimbi Gomis's late equaliser meant it was not decisive.
"My team isn't scared of the [return] match, and isn't scared of history," Mourinho insisted of their bête noire after Benzema's contribution. It's widely accepted that the coach is keen to move on the 23-year-old – with whom the Portuguese last night insisted he was "very satisfied" – at the season's end, but it may just be that Benzema's parting gift, like that of another expensive French striking flop at the Bernabeu, Nicolas Anelka, is to help Real Madrid regain their European crown.
Real were seeking to break a record that had seen three defeats in as many games and no goals scored on their European bogey ground. Yet it was last season's semi-finalists who began on the front foot, and Michel Bastos toe-poked over from an acute angle in the fourth minute after Yoann Gourcuff's pass dissected the Spanish back line. While Mourinho's men enjoyed the lion's share of possession, a less refined Lyons attacked with greater verve and gusto in the early stages. Real were shaken.
It took Madrid almost half an hour to get off their first shot of the contest, when Angel Di Maria sent a 25-yarder comfortably enough into the midriff of Hugo Lloris. The second, some two minutes later, saw the France No 1 work up more of a sweat as he dived to swat away Cristiano Ronaldo's low free-kick.
Still the visitors struggled to get a handle on their opponents, and they gasped when Iker Casillas failed to gather the lively Bastos's low cross after a lightning breakaway. Fortunately for the nine-times European champions, the captain recovered excellently to divert Gomis's effort over the bar.
Real started the second period with a greater intensity, and Bastos was cautioned for hauling down Di Maria after losing possession to him, a card which will keep the Brazilian out of the return. Ronaldo was inches from exacting more punishment but his dipping free-kick smacked back into play off Lloris' left post. Moments later, a Sergio Ramos header hit the crossbar from a Mesut Ozil corner as Madrid moved finally to impose themselves.
Ronaldo fervently appealed for a penalty after another free-kick from the edge of the area appeared to strike Gourcuff's arm – which Mourinho later described as "obvious. He [the referee] was five yards away" – but he was about to be shifted from centre stage in dramatic fashion.
Benzema, the scorer of 65 goals in 145 matches for Lyons before his £30m transfer in 2009, replaced the ineffective Emmanuel Adebayor to a raucous welcome in the 65th minute and immediately showed why he was valued so highly. He won the ball with his first touch, transferred it to Ozil then raced on to Ronaldo's pass in the area. Taking out Aly Cissokho with a deft sidestep, he calmly sidefooted the ball past Lloris, before declining to celebrate in the midst of a gaggle of elated team-mates.
Madrid appeared comfortable, but Claude Puel's men profited from an unlikely slice of luck that they lacked amid their first-half industry.
Gourcuff's 83rd-minute free-kick deflected high into the air, and Cris's headed flick found an unattended Gomis on the six-yard line, where he duly sidefooted past Casillas.
"We would have preferred that they didn't score, but my team reacted very well," reflected Puel after the final whistle. "We showed again that we can compete with them."
Lyons (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Réveillère, Cris, Lovren, Cissokho; Toulalan, Källström (Pjanic, 77); Bastos (Briand, 70), Gourcuff, Delgado (Pied, 70); Gomis. Substitutes not used Vercoutre, Gassama, Diakaté, Gonalons.
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Arbeloa; Khedira (L Diarra, 68), Alonso; Di María, Özil (Marcelo, 75), C Ronaldo; Adebayor (Benzema, 64). Substitutes not used Adán, Kaká, Granero, Albiol.
Referee W Stark (Germany).