Lyon ends Barcelona’s dream season
Barcelona had slid closer to perfection than any women’s soccer team. It soared to heights in 2021 and then orchestrated an encore that seemed even more untouchable on Saturday afternoon. Barca had scored 159 goals and conceded 11 en route to a 30-0-0 record in Spain. It had sorted out Champions League contenders in front of more than 90,000 fans who both expected and appreciated dominance.
It was the super team of super teams until running headfirst into the super club of super clubs in Turin on Saturday in the Champions League final and stumbling.
Lyon, winners of seven UEFA Women’s Champions League titles since 2011, blasted perfection into a million glittering pieces to win their eighth continental title, beating the reigning champions 3-1.
The French contrasted perfection with their own perfection. Midfielder Amandine Henry sent a 35-yard screamer into the top corner to take the sixth-minute lead.
Norway striker Ada Hegerberg, the competition’s all-time top scorer, scored a second goal and then superbly set up a third. American attacker Catarina Macario finished casually at the back post.
Rarely scoring single goals let alone multiple goals, the Barca machine looked stunned.
Barcelona pulled back a goal before half-time. It knocked superstars and even a former FIFA World Player of the Year player of the year off the bench in search of a second-half comeback. Patricia Guijarro hit the crossbar from midfield. A newly composed attacking line explored the many opportunities that had led to over 200 goals, record-breaking attendances and uninterrupted success during a picture-perfect season.
But there was one club at all times that was able to disrupt it.
Barca was a young phenomenon, an ultramodern story, riding and catalysing a wave of growth in women’s football. Lyon, on the other hand, had paved the way, recognizing earlier than most that investing in their women’s team could have endless rewards.
A decade ago, when Barcelona had not even professionalized their women’s team and sexist attitudes towards women’s sport were widespread, Lyon were already putting together super teams. It ended its own perfect league season in 2011, the same year it won its first European title. It followed in 2012 with its own flight of fancy.
Since then it has had the most expensive and talented women’s soccer team in the world. Although 2020-21 had been rocky and somewhat trophy-less, this team hadn’t just disappeared. Heberberg, the first women’s Ballon d’Or winner, returned to peak form from a cruciate ligament tear. American midfielders Lindsey Horan and Macario complemented an experienced French core who perhaps knew more than anyone in football how to sustain success.
Barca didn’t so much fall asleep under the pressure of perfection on the biggest stage in women’s club football in front of tens of thousands of fans who had traveled from Spain and France. It simply succumbed to a more experienced, tougher machine that remains the gold standard in the sport.