GENEVA, Aug 18: By eliminating wealthier rivals to surprisingly reach the Champions League semifinals, Lyon has followed Ajax last year as an uplifting story for soccer�s most prized club competition.
Lyon has beaten Manchester City and Juventus, one year after Ajax sent Juventus and Real Madrid home early, to make the Champions League seem more vibrant and less of a closed shop than some elite clubs want.
Now Lyon faces the same test Ajax failed � to become the longest-shot European champion in a generation to guarantee a return to next season�s competition.
Their exploits will feed into a revived debate about how to reform UEFA club competitions ahead of the 2024-25 season.
UEFA said on Monday talks will soon restart with all stakeholders, and no decisions have been taken. Before the debate stalled last year � when domestic leagues and mid-sized clubs opposed plans favouring a wealthy elite � one idea aired was to reward Champions League semifinalists starting in 2025 with a place in the next group stage.
After a seventh-place finish in the French league, which ended early because of the pandemic, Lyon will miss out on European soccer completely if it doesn�t win the Champions League � which earns an automatic spot in next season�s group stage.
Standing in Lyon�s way is Bayern Munich, which is heavily favoured in their semifinal on Wednesday. Leipzig or Paris Saint-Germain awaits in Sunday�s final in Lisbon. A Lyon-Leipzig final would be the most unheralded since Porto beat Monaco in 2004.
Ajax�s last-minute loss to Tottenham in the 2019 semifinals won sympathy because it sent the Dutch champion � a four-time European Cup winner playing in a mid-ranked domestic league � back to the Champions League qualifying rounds.
Everybody was excited about Ajax, UEFA president Alexsander Ceferin said in May 2019 after telling member federations of club-approved proposals to shake-up the Champions League.
It�s a romantic feeling, (Ajax) showed that everything is possible. Lyon has repeated the feat by over-achieving with young players at a well-run club trying to keep pace in soccer�s booming era of globalization.
Being in the Champions League is key to business plans of storied clubs and their emerging rivals. Clubs can top 100 million euros ($120 million) in prize money from UEFA each season along with the added revenue that comes from global exposure. � AP