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French 'brats' sparkle in Champions League

Nicolas Anelka scores twice for Chelsea and Karim Benzema, now with Real Madrid, scores against his old team, Olympique Lyon.

February 22, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones
  • Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka, left, celebrates with teammate Frank Lampard after scoring his second goal during Chelsea's 2-0 victory over FC Copenhagen on Tuesday.
Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka, left, celebrates with teammate Frank… (Adrian Dennis / AFP/Getty…)

This is the week in which former French national team coach Raymond Domenech launched a bitter salvo at his 2010 World Cup players.

"Looking back, I see them above all as a bunch of irresponsible, stupid brats," Domenech said in an interview with the French magazine L'Express.

On Tuesday, in a completely unrelated but nonetheless satisfying turn of events, it was three French players, including one of the "brats," who scored all four goals in European Champions League round-of-16 play.

In Denmark, World Cup striker Nicolas Anelka found the back of the net twice for Chelsea as it strolled to a 2-0 victory over an outclassed and outplayed FC Copenhagen at the Parken Stadion.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid's Karim Benzema scored against his former team, Olympique Lyon, a scant 42 seconds after coming on as a second-half substitute, but Lyon's Bafetimbi Gomis grabbed the tying goal with seven minutes left as Real was held to a 1-1 tie at Lyon's Stade de Gerland.

The second game was far livelier than the first. It had an edge to it even before the first ball was kicked, especially because it was Lyon that knocked nine-time champion Real Madrid out of the Champions League competition at the same stage last season.

Real, in fact, has faltered in the round of 16 for six consecutive years, which is one reason why Portugal's Jose Mourinho was brought aboard as coach.

Unafraid of controversial decisions, Mourinho has made more than a few in Spain, most notably leaving Benzema out of his starting lineup of late. He did so again Tuesday, but the player who cost Real $48 million when he moved from Lyon in July 2009 had the last laugh.

After Real winger Cristiano Ronaldo had hit the right post with a free kick and after Real defender Sergio Ramos bounced a header off the crossbar, Madrid finally got the goal its play deserved when Benzema made his dramatic appearance.

The cheers of welcome for Benzema from his former Lyon fans had hardly died down when he took a pass from Ronaldo in the penalty area while running laterally across the box and then slipped a shot between the legs of Lyon and French national team goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Less than a minute had elapsed since he came into the game, but Benzema was in no mood to celebrate.

"I couldn't," he said. "Lyon was my team, I grew up here, and it's thanks to Lyon that I am at Real Madrid today."

Madrid and Lyon have played each other seven times and the Spanish side has never won. Gomis' tying goal was a good one as he latched onto teammate Cris' header and directed the ball into the lower left corner beyond the reach of Real Madrid and Spain national team goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

The result left Mourinho in two minds. It was, he said, "a tough, hard-fought match with few chances," but the two near-misses by Ronaldo and Ramos, and a debatable non-call by German referee Wolfgang Stark, left Mourinho dissatisfied.

The call in question came when Ronaldo fired a free kick that caught the arm of Lyon's Youann Gourcuff, who was turning away but had brought his arm up against his head in an apparent attempt to protect his head from the shot.

"I'm 50 meters away and I can see it," Mourinho said of what he thought should have been a hand ball and a resulting penalty kick, "but the referee doesn't spot it from five meters. I hope it isn't decisive for Real Madrid, but if it is, how do you justify it?"

It is unlikely to be decisive. The odds on Lyon winning the return leg in Spain on March 16 are long indeed.

"The satisfaction is having stood up to them and still being in with a chance for the second leg," said ever-optimistic Lyon Coach Claude Puel.

Meanwhile, FC Copenhagen appears set to exit the competition March 16 when it travels to London to play a Chelsea team that is far superior. The Danish side showed the rust that comes from having been off during the winter break.

Fernando Torres, recently acquired from Liverpool for $80 million, played his third game for Chelsea but still is looking for his first goal. Instead, it was Anelka who sparked the Blues with a goal in each half.

"Anelka did a fantastic job," said Chelsea Coach Carlo Ancelotti. "Torres did very well because the key to the game was the work of the strikers. He was always dangerous and unlucky he didn't score, but he played a fantastic game."

Champions League play continues Wednesday with the last two first-leg games in the round of 16. In a repeat of last year's final, defending champion Inter Milan is at home against Bayern Munich, while Manchester United travels to France to play Olympique Marseille.

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