FEATURE | A world turned upside down – PSG-Lyon 2008 Coupe de France final revisited

The Coupe de France finalists were very different clubs when they last met in a Coupe de France Final. It’s 16 years since the last time Olympique Lyonnais and Paris St Germain met in the Coup de France final. The finalists that day were both dramatically different clubs to the ones that will lock horns on Saturday 24th May. The showdown marked the end of an era for both sides, with each club set to head off in distinctly opposing directions.

Both finalists had enjoyed relatively comfortable journeys to the Stade de France, with Lyon only conceding once and PSG twice, along the way. It was Les Parisiens’ tenth appearance in the final, and it offered the prize of a cup double after lifting the Coupe de Ligue two months earlier. However, the season had been a struggle for the capital club, finishing 16th in a league of 20, just three points above relegated RC Lens. Remarkably, safety was only secured on the last day with a dramatic 2-1 win over Sochaux.

After enjoying a golden era in the 1990s under Luis Fernandez, Paul Le Guen’s PSG had tumbled into serious decline. Disastrous mismanagement on and off the field culminated in crippling financial losses and the exit of powerful investors, Canal+. No longer a force in Ligue 1, the club found solace in the domestic cups, winning the Coupe de France in 2004 and 2006, and losing in the final in 2003. The 2007-08 edition presented an opportunity to finish a dreadful season on a high.

Lyon the dominant force

Lyon’s fortunes couldn’t have been more contrasting. After securing their first Ligue 1 title in 2002, the club went on to enjoy a record-breaking seven successive league championships. Led by irascible owner, Jean-Michel Aulas, Les Gones had at its disposal an astonishing conveyor belt of talent. Michael Essien, Eric Abidal, Florent Malouda, Hatem Ben Arfa and Karim Benzema were just a few of the stars to emerge from Lyon’s renowned academy. Allied with this seemingly bottomless pool of talent was Aulas’ masterful savviness in the transfer market. Allain Perrin’s 2007-08 version had been rejuvenated by the canny acquisitions of Miralem Pjanic, Fabio Grosso and Abdul Kader Keïta, absorbing the lucrative departures of Malouda, Abidal and Tiago Mendes the previous summer. Crowned league champions just a week before the cup final, the face-off with PSG presented the opportunity of a first-ever domestic double.

So, there was little doubt who the favourites were as the sides contested the 91st final of the Coupe de France. However, it was the underdogs who dominated the majority of the game, as a strangely disjointed Lyon struggled to pose a significant threat to Jérôme Alonzo’s goal. Lyon’s electric front three of Sidney Govou, Fred and 20-year-old Benzematop scorer in Ligue 1 with 20 goals and with six goals in six games in the cup found little change out of PSG’s experienced stoppers Mario Yepes and Zoumana Camara. Even Lyon’s captain and playmaker Juninho was unable to impose himself on the game, as PSG’s hard-running Grégory Bourillon, Jérémy Clément and Clément Chantôme harried and hustled the champions.

Govou the hero for Lyon

In a tight, hard-fought contest, it was Les RougeetBleu who came closest to breaking the deadlock. In his final game for PSG, star striker Pauleta was twice denied, first with a left-foot volley cleared off the line and then by the feet of keeper Grégory Coupet when through on goal. It became clear that it wouldn’t be Les Parisiens’ day when, in the second half, Jérôme Rothen’s freekick was met by Camara, whose goal-bound effort was clearly blocked by the arm of Alain Boumsong. As the ball hung in the air, Yepes followed up with a header that crashed against the bar from point-blank range, before Camara saw his effort from the rebound spectacularly parried away by Coupet. Miraculously, Lyon had escaped, and it was inevitable when the league champions scored the game’s decisive goal.

As the first half of extra time drew to a close, Benzema’s inswinging cross from the left was chested down by Keïta on the edge of the PSG box. The ball bounced into the path of Govou who rammed it home past Alonzo. As Govou disappeared under a heap of bodies, Les Gones celebrated their first Coupe de France victory in 35 years and the end of a glorious season.

However, it would prove to be a watershed moment for the champions. The following season, their winning streak came to an end as Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux lifted the league title. OL would fail to win another title and that wait continues today. As for PSG, the pain of the cup defeat soon subsided when, three years later, the Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) group acquired its transformational stake in the club. Today, the tables have turned to such an extent that Lyon will face a challenge on Friday every bit as daunting as the one PSG took on 16 years ago.

GFFN | John Porter

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