Barcelona midfielder Yaya Touré said he was “extremely relieved” to have avoided defeat away to an impressive Olympique Lyonnais side in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round on Tuesday.
The most difficult period so far in Barça’s season looked like it might get worse when Juninho Pernambucano broke the deadlock with a sublime free-kick after just seven minutes, prompting an intense spell of Lyon pressure. Yet the visitors, who had been beaten by city rivals RCD Espanyol three days earlier, fought back and secured a 1-1 draw through Thierry Henry’s 67th-minute header, leaving them in a strong position ahead of the second leg.
Although the scoreline extended the Spanish club’s winless run to three matches, Touré was pleased. “This is a very good result for us because we know how hard it is to play away to Lyon,” the Ivory Coast international told uefa.com. “Real Madrid have had two bad defeats here in recent years and Lyon showed again that they’re an excellent side by posing us a lot of problems for 70 minutes. We’re extremely relieved because the Espanyol game took a lot out of us and we’re struggling a bit physically at the moment. Tonight we were up against another team that really unsettled us but we produced the necessary performance.”
Only disappointing finishing from the hosts kept Josep Guardiola’s charges within touching distance at half-time, yet the Liga leaders slowly improved and looked the better side in the second period. Striker Samuel Eto’o blamed the poor opening on a lack of aggression, saying: “We allowed Lyon to play in the first half. As soon as we lost possession they were very quick to counterattack and created several dangerous openings. We tightened up in the second half, kept the ball better and managed to put Lyon under pressure.”
The result means the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League winners will be favourites to progress to the quarter-finals at Camp Nou on 11 March, although Touré is bracing himself for another severe test. “The tie is still very open,” the former AS Monaco FC player said. “I’m sure the second leg is also going to be very difficult. People will be saying we’re favourites but we need to be wary of Lyon. We saw tonight how dangerous Juninho and the rest of the Lyon team can be.”
Henry echoed Touré’s thoughts, singling out Lyon’s set-piece wizard as the principal threat to Barcelona’s chances. “I know this Lyon team well and I knew we needed to avoid conceding free-kicks around the box,” the France striker told uefa.com. “We conceded one a long way from the penalty area and Juninho still found a way of scoring. Only he knows how he does it. When you have a player like Juninho who can make a breakthrough at any moment you can always win a game. We will have to be very careful.”