Is French football witnessing a renaissance?
Lyon's swatting of Real Madrid was the European result of the season so far. The elimination of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka et al from the Champions League was cheered by neutrals across the world, for whom the galacticos represent all that is unfair about the soccer world.
The 2-1 aggregate defeat was doubly galling for Real as not only are holders Barcelona still in the competition but this season's final will be taking place in their home ground, Santiago Bernabeu.
Marseille, drawn into a group alongside this week's eliminated giants Milan and Real, did not make it to the knock-out stages, but Bordeaux are well-placed to join their French counterparts in the last eight, leading Olympiakos 1-0 from the first leg.
Olympique Lyonnais, as Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski told us across a chapter in 'Why England Lose', are the model of a well-run club, while Real are perhaps the epitome of reckless overspending and cavalier ownership, who only survive because of their untouchable status as a national icon.
French clubs are not as wealthy as their English, Italian and Spanish counterparts, which makes Lyon's downing of Real all the more impressive. But Lyon are not a poor team either, having invested 70 million Euros on players last summer. French football is more physical than its latin counterparts, but equally more technical than the English tradition. Ultimately, a lack of financial clout has impaired its clubs' Champions League progress.
It is still too early to proclaim the long-awaited arrival of La Ligue on the highest European stage, but these things are cyclical. Dutch clubs ruled in the early 1970s, then German teams; English teams were on top in the late 1970s/early '80s, Italian clubs ten years later, followed by Spanish and then 'English' ones again.
Marseille's European Cup win in 1993 remains France's only Champions Cup crown.
UEFA Champions League 2009-'10 Quarter Finalists
Manchester United Bordeaux/Olympiakos
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile