Lyon start year with clash of extremes

January 3, 2006

PARIS, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Olympique Lyon resume their chase for a record fifth consecutive Ligue 1 title by visiting bottom-placed Racing Strasbourg on Wednesday and are looking forward to another year on top of French soccer.

The runaway leaders are 12 points clear but there was a ray of hope for their rivals when Lyon slumped to their first league defeat of the season when they lost 3-1 at home to Lille last month.

Defender Jeremy Berthod, however, said that defeat, in Lyon's last match of 2005, had been an accident.

'We lost once and we must not let it happen again,' he told reporters. 'It will not be easy in Strasbourg but we all realise we have to win.'

Lyon captain Claudio Cacapa did not seem worried his team about the loss.

'We have forgotten all about what happened against Lille,' the Brazilian defender said. 'This is a new championship starting.'

In a class of their own at home for years, Lyon have plenty to look forward to in the second part of the season with a clash against PSV Eindhoven in the last 16 of the Champions League coming up.

Lyon are desperate to make an impact in Europe at last after leaving the Champions League in the quarter-finals the last two seasons and dream of going to the final that will be played at the Stade de France.

'The fact that we lost one match does not mean we have to change everything,' said Lyon goalkeeper Gregory Coupet. 'We must carry on. Results will follow'.

With Lyon very likely to retain their title, interest should soon focus on the battle for second place.

Only one point separates second-placed Racing Lens from seventh-placed Olympique Marseille, who entertain northerners Lens on Wednesday.

Sixth-placed Paris St Germain are also in the race for second place and direct qualification for the Champions League.

Chairman Pierre Blayau, however, decided the Paris club's results were not good enough and sacked coach Laurent Fournier during the winter break, replacing him with Guy Lacombe.

'A new coach means new methods but our goal has not changed and remains to make the Champions League,' said Portugal striker Pauleta, the PSG captain.

The PSG coach faces an interesting test for his first match in charge on Wednesday with the Parisians entertaining strugglers Sochaux, the club that sacked Lacombe before the start of the season.