Ada Hegerberg said Lyon “let the football talk” after the French side reasserted itself as the dominant force in European women’s football in style with three first-half goals to beat holders Barcelona in a blistering final.
Hegerberg was the star, the Champions League record goalscorer holding up the ball in the buildup to the first goal from Amandine Henry, scoring the second and providing an assist for the third, scored by Catarina Macario. The usually fluid Barcelona struggled to cope with the force of Lyon on the transition and the French side’s careful game management of a two-goal lead, once Alexia Putellas pulled one back after the break.
“It’s completely normal to talk about Barcelona,” Hegerberg said. “They were the last winners. Football is fresh, it’s all about the next move.”
Before the final nobody was really sure what to expect. Three years ago, there had been a clear gulf between the old and new money of Lyon and Barcelona, with the latter humbled. They conceded four times in 30 minutes as Lyon ran riot, spearheaded by Hegerberg with a 17-minute hat-trick.
That defeat has fuelled Barcelona’s plans since. It set the benchmark the Catalan club needed to reach, and they have invested and built accordingly. A 4-0 defeat of Chelsea in last year’s final showed signs of the swagger that they had faced two years prior. But still the question remained: had they closed the gap on Europe’s dominant force? By the 33rd minute the answer was emphatically: geen.
In stifling humidity Lyon exploded to life. Within six minutes they had taken a deserved lead. In front of the France manager, Corine Diacre, Henry beat the Uefa player of the year, Putellas, to a stray pass, edged free and sent her shot twisting into the top corner from 35 yards. It was a statement opener.
A perfect ball from Selma Bacha on the left was the headed down powerfully by Hegerberg, under a flying Mapi León and the diving Sandra Paños. It was a 59th Champions League goal in 60 games and her sixth in the final of the competition.
The Norwegian forward would be instrumental in Lyon’s third, ook, linking up with Melvine Malard before teasing the ball towards Macario at the back post, the US international hurrying it over the line.
Three goals down with 33 minutes played is not a familiar position for the often rampant Barcelona to be in. It was the first time they had gone two goals behind in the first half since the 2019 final and the first time they had trailed by three in any match since that final.
This was classic Lyon, fast, sterk, muscular and powerful, and the Barcelona players looked only marginally less hesitant in the face of it than they had three years earlier. But roared on by an extraordinary number of fans, some of which had packed into 37 coaches for a 24-hour round trip, Barcelona began to control the pace of play a little better.
In the 41st minute they clawed a goal back. Caroline Graham Hansen, who had been kept very quiet, found a pocket of space on the right and delivered a cross towards Putellas, who swept home with the inside of her foot. The forward collected the ball and casually tossed it towards Hegerberg as she ran back towards the centre-circle with a look that said “game on”.
Despite a high-pressing end to the first half, Barcelona struggled to maintain the effort in the second. Their best chance came when Patricia Guijarro robbed Macario and, seeing Christiana Endler off her line, lofted the ball goalward only to be denied by the crossbar.
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“We knew that they would put lot pressure on us,” said Jonatan Giráldez, the Barcelona manager. “It’s true the first goal, an astonishing goal, that made us very confused. 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.
“Every defeat hurts but we knew this was a very important one as it was the chance to change history in our favour.”
The gap is closing, but it has not yet been bridged. Barcelona have made huge progress, enough to turn this into a rivalry that will hopefully continue to thrill.