x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Brazilians key for Lyon

French club hope South American stars can lead them to European final, writes Alam Khan.

Lyon will hope Michel Bastos, left, plays tonight.
Lyon will hope Michel Bastos, left, plays tonight.

When Jairzinho struggled to make an impact at Marseille in his sole season there 26 years ago, it seemed to make French football far less attractive for Brazilian footballers to ply their trade. If one of the greatest wingers of all time could not succeed, what chance for lesser names with lesser talent? It was 20 years before one of his compatriots ventured to make an impression that encouraged others to follow.

Rai, the elegant attacking midfielder who was the younger brother of Socrates and the hero to Kaka, became an influential figure for Paris St Germain. A Cup Winners' Cup success in 1996 was also significant for the fact it was the last major European trophy won by a French club. Lyon are hoping to change that sorry statistic in this season's Champions League. They have also become the French club where Brazilians have since felt most at home.

Juninho Pernambucano, the flamboyant midfielder with the free-kick ability to better David Beckham, provides the best example. He was considered a gamble when he arrived in 2001 at a club which had not previously won the French championship. When he scored his 100th goal in his final game against Caen last May, he left as a legend, having helped Lyon to seven successive titles. On one of his trips to Dubai where he has friends, Juninho revealed the reason for his longevity and success.

"Why should I want to leave if I am happy?" he said. "A Brazilian player does not always have to play in Spain or Italy like before. "If you are at the best team in France, you do not want to go somewhere that will not be as good and where you may not win trophies." Frustration did get the better of him in 2007 when he talked about a move after Lyon were beaten in the first knockout round of the Champions League.

He stayed and admitted later: "It was my dream to win the Champions League with Lyon. Losing hurt." It is somewhat ironic then that in the first season since his departure and, while he is still playing in the Qatar Stars League with Al Gharafa, Lyon are so close to achieving that target. Two Brazilians, though, could be key figures in their attempt. Cris, their commanding central defender and captain, and Michel Bastos, the skilful winger.

When he starred for Lille last season, the latter was described as having the best left foot in France. Bastos surprisingly started on the bench in the semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich as Lyon adopted a more cautious approach. It will have to be more positive at the Stade Gerland tonight if they are to overturn a 1-0 deficit. Claude Puel, the coach, was hoping Cris and Bastos will recover from injuries to face Bayern and the pressure of having to produce a result will see them perform at their best.

"Our game is much better when we have to go after a result than the other way round," Puel told reporters. "Without being overly optimistic, I think we have every chance to qualify simply by playing to our ability." Bayen will be without the suspended Franck Ribery, but, having beaten Fiorentina and Manchester United on away goals in the last two rounds, Louis van Gaal said the "special German mentality" could again prove decisive.

"Our willpower is just incredible. We have always managed to stay alive this season even during games when we were trailing," the Bayern coach told reporters yesterday. "When I was a coach in the Netherlands and my team had to play against a German one, I used to tell my players that they had to be ready to play until the very end of the game." akhan@thenational.ae Lyon v Bayern Munich, 10.45pm, Aljazeera Sport + 3