Lyons aim to take 'one more step' towards first European final

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The Independent Football

Matters are rarely straightforward in French football, but as Lyons travel to Bayern Munich for tonight's first leg of their Champions League semi-final the present situation takes some beating.

Take the national team. Raymond Domenech conducted a successful World Cup qualifying campaign yet will go to South Africa this summer as one of the most unpopular France coaches in history. Not that his heir apparent, Laurent Blanc, is flavour of the month either, the coach of Bordeaux having been criticised for blaming his players for a recent collapse that looks certain to cost the Girondins the league title.

Public affection has been reserved of late for France's players rather than the coach, but Thierry Henry, the team's elder statesman and last link with the world champions of 1998, remains tainted by his handball in the play-off against the Republic of Ireland and is now only a bit-part player with Barcelona, while Franck Ribéry, who has replaced him as the national team's most popular player, was revealed this week to have been interviewed by police investigating a prostitution network.

At club level the one certainty used to be Lyons' domination, but after winning the championship seven years in succession they were denied last summer by Bordeaux, who had not won the title for 10 years. Now Claude Puel's team are set to be pipped to the post by a club seeking to end an even longer wait, Marseilles having last won the championship 17 years ago. Bordeaux and Lyons cut each other's throats last weekend by fighting out a 2-2 draw.

Nevertheless, to complete the picture of a topsy-turvy world, Lyons have put their domestic troubles behind them to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in their history.

Although regular quarter-finalists, Lyon had never made the last four until they did so earlier this month at the expense of Bordeaux. Now they are within three games of becoming France's second European champions after Marseilles in 1993. In the build-up to tonight's game Lyon have been selling T-shirts bearing the logo "one more step".

Bayern, in contrast, are veteran campaigners at the sharp end of European competition. However, news of this week's prostitution investigation in France could have a greater effect on the German team than on Lyons, even though it was revealed that both the latter's Sidney Govou and Bayern's Ribéry had been interviewed as witnesses by police. French media reports said that the investigation centred on a Paris nightclub allegedly frequented by escort girls.

Lyons' preparations have not been helped by the ban on flights across Europe. The French team spent two days travelling 600 miles to Munich by road from Bordeaux, where they were playing on Saturday, in 10 minivans borrowed from the club's own academy.

However Hugo Lloris, the Lyons goalkeeper, said the long journey had not dampened the team's enthusiasm, while Puel said he had actually enjoyed it. "We got to see a lot of interesting landscapes in both France and Germany," he said.