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03 June 2023

Lyon aim to cut out charity for visit of APOEL


As if Tuesday's Champions League opponents APOEL were not slippery enough adversaries, Lyon find themselves faced by untimely questions about their capacity to continue competing for honours on four fronts.

Having already qualified for the French League Cup final, Lyon reached the French Cup quarter-finals with victory over Bordeaux last week and are level on points with third-placed Lille in the Ligue 1 battle for Champions League qualification.

On Tuesday, against APOEL, they will resume a Champions League campaign that was kept alive in improbable fashion by December's astonishing 7-1 win at Dinamo Zagreb, but OL have recently acquired a worrying habit for conceding the first goal.

They came from behind to beat Lorient after extra time in the League Cup semi-finals and repeated the trick against Bordeaux, having fought back from two goals down to draw 2-2 at Marseille in the league in between.

Their luck finally ran out on Saturday, however, as they fell to a shock 2-1 defeat at home to relegation-threatened Caen -- their eighth loss of the season.

Lisandro Lopez halved the deficit for Lyon with four minutes remaining but for once, Remi Garde's men were unable to drag themselves back into the game in the closing stages.

Defeat prevented Lyon from leapfrogging Lille into third place and they will know that goals cannot be given away quite so generously in the Champions League, where a single away goal can completely change the complexion of a tie.

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas expressed frustration at OL's inability to react against Caen and criticised their lack of effort, but Garde dismissed suggestions the result would unsettle preparations for Tuesday's match at Stade Gerland.

"It's obviously not good preparation but if we'd won, you could have said that we'd be going into the game with too much confidence," he said.

"We'll call ourselves into question. Every match has its own context and with the flavour of the Champions League, Tuesday will be very different."

Croatian centre-back Dejan Lovren is unlikely to feature as he continues his recovery from tendinitis in both heels, but otherwise Garde has a fully fit squad for his first Champions League knockout match at the Lyon helm.

Lyon are competing in the last 16 for the ninth season in a row, although they have made the quarter-finals only once in the last five campaigns -- when they reached the semi-finals in 2009-10 before losing to Bayern Munich.

In stark contrast, APOEL are the surprise package of this season's tournament, having become the first Cypriot side to ever reach the knockout phase.

And unlike Lyon, who lost twice to Real Madrid and shared two goalless draws with Ajax, APOEL enjoyed a superb group phase, beating Zenit Saint Petersburg and Porto and only losing their unbeaten record -- at home to Shakhtar Donetsk -- when qualification was already assured.

The exploits of the smallest club left in the competition have gripped the football-crazed island of Cyprus and Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Manduca says the club from Nicosia will travel to frozen central France without fear.

"It's a big opportunity for us, it's a big game," he told his club's website.

"Everybody is focused and everybody wants to play. We will try our best to bring back a good result from France."

Including the qualifying rounds, Manduca's compatriot Ailton has scored seven goals in this season's competition and he will lead the line in a counter-attacking system that has already discomfited several more illustrious opponents.

A first-half brace from Cypriot international Constantinos Charalambides gave APOEL a 2-1 win at home to Ethnikos Achnas in their last outing on Friday, which kept Ivan Jovanovic's side in second place in the Cypriot First Division.