With their runner-up medals around their necks, Barcelona players stayed on the field inside the Juventus Stadium and watched, almost torturously, as the golden glitter poured down, showering the all-conquering Lyon team in glory.
The numbers say it all. Champions League titles: Lyon 8 Barcelona 1.
Lyon triggered Barcelona’s incredible rise. It was the painful defeat by the French side in the Champions League final three years ago, in which Barcelona trailed 3-0 within 19 minutes, which was key to their upward trajectory.
The roles reversed going into this final, however. Lyon’s motivation stemmed from ending last season without a trophy as rivals Paris Saint-Germain knocked them out of the Champions League quarter-finals and toppled them from their domestic throne. They underachieved, admittedly hampered by COVID-19 cases and injuries to two of their best players Ada Hegerberg and Griedge Mbock, but it was Barcelona who reigned supreme, both in Spain and in Europe.
Lyon drew a line under that season. This was the year of the reconquest.
“From the start of the new season, we said we had to go after every title,” said player of the match Amandine Henry after Lyon’s 3-1 win in Turin.
“We’re not really aware of the joy when we win a title, but when we lose a title, we realize how much we miss it. This season, that was the main objective.
“We had nothing to lose and everything to win. The girls said, ‘We have to give everything tonight, start well, put the pressure on and finish them.’ “
Last year, Barcelona created panic among Chelsea, leading 3-0 within 20 minutes. This time, they were the ones suffering at the hands of a European powerhouse. Lyon came out flying, pressing Barcelona hard and unsettling them.
“We had the perfect first half, we were efficient, I do not think we could have done more than we did,” said Henry. “We knew that if we made a good start, we’d finish them.
“It’s a team that likes to play with the ball, drop off to then proceed on the counter (and) we did not want to experience that. That’s why we gave everything in that first 20 minutes and then rode it out. “
The timing of the first goal was crucial in how the final would play out and Henry’s sensational strike in the fifth minute set the tone.
“I do not know what happened,” Henry laughed. “I did not even ask myself the question. I saw there was a space and I just went for it. I did not even wait for it to hit the top right-hand corner. I just started to celebrate. ”
As Henry wheeled away with her arms aloft, Lyon’s head coach Sonia Bompastor stood unmoved with a poker face, arms folded and had a quiet word with assistant coach Camille Abily.
Barcelona, with their perfect domestic league campaign, are not used to conceding, let alone in the opening minutes.
“The first goal, an astonishing goal, made us very confused,” said Barcelona head coach Jonatan Giraldez. “We were a bit out of place. We knew the key to the game was to control their transitions and for some minutes we weren’t able to do that. “
While Barcelona floundered, Lyon’s confidence grew, especially for 21-year-old Selma Bacha.
The French full-back has been instrumental to her side’s wing-dominant attack, an area in which Barcelona are vulnerable.
Bompastor, the first female coach to win the Champions League and the first to win it as both a player and manager, has given Lyon’s top assist provider in the Champions League license to exploit the space in front of her and display her pinpoint crossing, just like she did for Lyon’s two goals in their semi-final second-leg win against PSG.
“Sonia has known me since I was very young,” said Bacha, a Lyon academy graduate. “She knows me better than anyone, she’s a top coach because she’s made me develop a lot. This year she made me take responsibility and I’m very proud of that. This win is especially thanks to her. ”
After a neat one-two, Bacha hit her cross first time, laying it on a plate for the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Hegerberg, silencing the raucous Barcelona fans who outnumbered the Lyon support.
Having endured two years of rehabilitation from her ACL injury, Hegerberg remains the women’s Champions League all-time top scorer with 59 goals in 60 appearances. Along with Wendie Renard, she is an exemplary role model for the younger players.
“Before each match, Ada and I have a ritual,” Bacha said. “We look at each other in the eyes and we understand each other. I know what I have to do and she must be in position. We have this connection that I do not have with anyone else. We get on very well off the pitch, so on the field it can only be easier. ”
As well as her attacking prowess, Bacha defended astutely. She ran up and down the left flank, denying Jennifer Hermoso the chance to shoot from close range and standing up to her opposite number, Norway international Caroline Graham Hansen, six years her senior.
“I know I have the qualities to take on these duels. I just needed to concentrate and not dive in, ”Bacha said. “It was hot but I never gave up, even if I was tired. You have to push yourself mentally, it’s the Champions League final.
“I feel this year that the team always wants more, the team is calm mentally, positive, that’s the most important.
“We showed to the whole of Europe that we are still here.”
Lyon have never lost to Barcelona and do not fear them like other teams do. They were contesting their 10th Champions League final compared to Barcelona’s third. Captain Renard, the first player to make more than 100 Champions League appearances, Eugenie Le Sommer and Sarah Bouhaddi now each have eight winners’ medals.
Lyon’s mentality was resolute, they remained composed and used their experience. Barcelona’s failure to clear the ball for Lyon’s third goal, meanwhile, was a sign of their capitulation.
Sloppy defending, slow reactions to second balls and a catalog of errors allowed Catarina Macario to tap in, giving Lyon a 3-0 cushion just past the half-hour mark. Lyon were ruthless in taking advantage of Barcelona’s mistakes. The reigning champions are not used to opponents pressing high, flooding bodies into the area, peppering their penalty box and they could not handle it.
Barcelona captain Alexia Putellas’ brilliant finish gave the traveling fans some hope going into the break. Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, who went to speak to the players at half-time, as is his custom, warned them of Barcelona’s threat. But Putellas’ goal was too little, too late.
Asked whether a lack of competitive rhythm in the domestic league – Barcelona won 30 out of 30 league games with a goal difference of +148 this season – led to their downfall, Giraldez replied: “I do not want to give an excuse. We should have played quicker, faster. We have players who are able to do that. We should have more resources in our attack. ”
Hermoso, 32, was not clinical enough up front. She had two clear-cut chances within five minutes to equalize but could not capitalize. Her substitution at half-time for the Nigeria international Asisat Oshoala was telling.
This defeat will hurt Barcelona. When the final whistle blew, Putellas fell to the floor on her back and did not get up. Hegerberg embraced her fellow Ballon d’Or winner with a whisper in her ear. Upon collecting the award for the competition’s top goalscorer this season, Putellas looked devastated, eyes puffy from her tears.
Barcelona have not conceded three goals in any match since the 2019 final against Lyon and have not lost two matches in a row in this competition since 2018. It was a chance for them to secure back-to-back Champions League victories and assert themselves against Lyon, the powerhouses of women’s football who won five European finals in a row from 2016 before Barcelona halted their run.
If the 2019 final is anything to go by, however, Barcelona will use this loss to recalibrate, use the pain to fuel their next campaign and push Lyon harder.
Champions of Europe once again, Lyon flew back to France on Saturday night to celebrate their victory but they won’t rest on their laurels, no chance. They dominated before Barcelona and will continue to dominate again.
“We let the football talk,” said Hegerberg. “It’s part of the game. It’s completely normal to talk about Barcelona. They were the last winners. Football is fresh, it’s all about the next move. “
(Top photo: Isabella Bonotto / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)