SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN (AFP) – They are the two enduring heavyweights of the last decade in European women’s football, and on Monday (2am Brunei time) title holders Lyon and German contenders Wolfsburg meet in the Champions League final for the fourth time in eight years.
Lyon’s hegemony in Europe was supposedly under greater threat than ever before coming into the ‘Final Eight’, but the French club are now just 90 minutes away from winning the Champions League for the fifth year running, and for a record-extending seventh time overall.
But Wolfsburg have lived up to their billing as the most likely team to halt Lyon’s run, and are themselves now aiming to lift the trophy for the third time in their fifth final appearance.
It is a fitting occasion for the women’s game to be in the spotlight, although the coronavirus threat has ensured the match in San Sebastian will be played behind closed doors, just like the men’s final between Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon a week ago.
The similarities do not go much further – if the two men’s finalists earned total prize money of around EUR80 million (USD95 million) and are expected to make around EUR130 million altogether once television revenue and other bonuses are added, the winner of Monday’s game will have made just EUR460,000 in prize money.
At least Video Assistant Referees will be available for the final, having controversially not been in use previously in the competition.
For years Lyon have served as a model of how successful a women’s side attached to a professional men’s club can be given proper financial backing, although rivals at home and abroad are gradually making life tougher.
They were crowned French champions for the 14th year running in May in a season curtailed because of the pandemic, and they recently won the French Cup for the ninth time by beating Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) on penalties in the final.
Jean-Luc Vasseur’s team again edged out PSG in the Champions League semi-finals, with skipper Wendie Renard’s header making the difference in Bilbao. Prior to that they shaded Bayern Munich 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
“I think my team is growing in strength,” said Vasseur after the semi-final.
His squad reads like a who’s who of the biggest names in women’s football, from captain Renard to England right-back Lucy Bronze, Japan midfielder Saki Kumagai, Germany playmaker Dzsenifer Marozsan and Norway’s 2018 Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg.
“These players’ hunger to win things is insatiable,” Vasseur added. “They are still greedy for success. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Two years ago, Lyon came from behind to beat Wolfsburg 4-1 in extra time in the final in Kiev, although that game actually ended goalless in 90 minutes.
When ‘OL’ beat Wolfsburg in 2016 they needed penalties to do so after a 1-1 draw. And the Germans claimed the first of their back-to-back titles by defeating Lyon 1-0 in 2013.
This will surely be another close contest, with Wolfsburg having completed a German league and cup double before coming to Spain, where they defeated Barcelona 1-0 in the semi-finals with Sweden international Fridolina Rolfo scoring.
In Dane Pernille Harder they have another prolific Scandinavian forward and in Germany’s Alexandra Popp they have a player especially determined to gain revenge – she was sent off in the 2018 final with Wolfsburg leading at the time.
“They’re the number one in Europe and we obviously want to put a stop to that,” Popp told UEFA.com.
“I don’t think we’ve had a season as strong as this year. And that gives us the confidence to go again in the Champions League final. We stated at the start of the year that our target was to win the Champions League.”
One thing that could help them is that Lyon will be without suspended England forward Nikita Parris, who was sent off against PSG. The fearsome Hegerberg is not yet fully fit after a serious knee injury.