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Lyon top NC Courage, winning Women’s International Champions Cup

Courage head coach Paul Riley: “To me, tonight, it felt like the two best teams in the world were playing against each other.”

Olympique Lyonnais celebrates its 2019 Women's International Champions Cup victory at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. Lyon beat the N.C. Courage 1-0 on Aug. 18. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

CARY, N.C. — Leading up to the second Women’s International Champions Cup, Lucy Bronze and Olympique Lyonnais head coach Jean-Luc Vasseur talked about how the club had its sights set on winning five trophies this season.

And, despite this technically being Lyon’s preseason, the WICC was one of them.

After Sunday night at WakeMed Soccer Park, it’s one down and four to go for Les Lyonnaises. Vasseur’s side topped the North Carolina Courage 1-0 in the NWSL’s club’s own building in front of an announced crowd of 8,208 fans, taking home the WICC crown and avenging their loss to the Courage from a year ago.

The Lyon players celebrated on the field like they had won any other significant trophy, chanting along to songs, biting their medals and posing for photos. As Courage players exited their locker rooms, cheers from the Lyon dressing room echoed around the stadium.

“It’s part of being a part of this Lyon team. It’s something I realized when I first came here. They celebrate every trophy like it’s the Champions League. They’re very proud of all the trophies they win here and we’ve always got a lot of respect for our opposition,” said Bronze, Lyon’s fullback. “It is a big win and it was a big game. It was a good game, an intense game, and obviously we’re happy that we won.”

While the game was classified as an exhibition, both sides treated it as anything but. Vasseur and Courage head coach Paul Riley both fielded mostly first-choice lineups and used substitutions for tactical reasons. And the players on the pitch played with energy, tenacity and hunger for a victory.

“It felt like something special here tonight,” Courage defender Merritt Mathias said. “It felt like two of the best teams in the world were going at each other.”

Riley agreed.

“To me, tonight, it felt like the two best teams in the world were playing against each other. That’s the way it felt,” the Courage head coach said. “I thought it was a brilliant game. Two fantastic teams.”

Olympique Lyonnais beat the North Carolina Courage 1-0 on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. for the Women’s International Champions Cup. Dzsenifer Marozsán netted the lone score. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

The first half was back-and-forth affair, featuring some stellar work between the pipes by the Courage’s Steph Labbe and Lyon’s Sarah Bouhaddi, both starters in this past World Cup for Canada and France, respectively. It was Mathias who notched the match’s first shot on-frame in the 15th minute, but Bouhaddi was there to stop it.

Kristin Hamilton and Lynn Williams nearly combined for a goal in the 27th minute as Hamilton made an overlapping run while Williams fed her a through ball into the box. But again, Bouhaddi was there to snuff out Hamilton’s low and hard shot attempt.

On the other end, Labbe saved a pair of shots in the 23rd and 24th minutes, and in the 41st minute, Amel Majri’s attempt hit the crossbar. Lyon’s attack of Ada Hegerberg, Eugénie Le Sommer and Dzsenifer Marozsán kept Labbe and the Courage defense busy. Just before the referee whistled for halftime, Hegerberg made her way into the box, but was dispossessed by Abby Erceg – the reigning NWSL Defender of the Year – before she could get a shot off.

Then, in the 57th minute, the game changed. Lyon broke forward for an attack and Bronze carried the ball at her feet up the right flank. The former UNC Tar Heel made her way past one defender, then laid the ball off to an unmarked Marozsán, making her way towards the box. In stride, Marozsán used just one strike of her right foot to launch what seemed like an un-save-able shot towards the Courage goal. The ball looked to be sailing right, but curled back in and escaped the diving reach of Labbe.

Humbly, the German national team midfielder didn’t boast too much about the brilliant strike after the game.

“I just saw one choice and I did it. It was a perfect pass and for sure a great shot,” Marozsán said. “I don’t think about it, I just play. I think we saw today a really tough game from both sides. Carolina is really a good, good team. It was physically on the top level. We are lucky because we scored one goal.”

The Courage battled, scratched and clawed to try and even the score, but Marozsán’s strike proved to be the difference. Jessica McDonald, looking to save the day again as a second-half substitute, just missed the post on a strike in the 66th minute. In the 83rd minute, Debinha did her best to work some magic inside the box, cutting around a defender before unleashing a strike, but it couldn’t beat a diving Bouhaddi near post.

“I think the intensity that North Carolina brings is up there with the best,” Bronze said. “Their quality on the ball is maybe not as high as, say, Wolfsburg, but they’ve got more in intensity, in pressure and in defending. It’s the American way.”

In all, the Courage out-shot Lyon 14-9 and bested them in shots on-goal 6-2. Bouhaddi claimed the tournament’s Golden Glove award for top keeper, while Lyon defender and captain Wendie Renard was awarded the Golden Ball as the WICC’s best player.

“I think that’s maybe why we scored and they didn’t, is maybe that extra quality at the end where, the goal we scored was an amazing finish, and that’s what it takes to win this game. The intensity was crazy,” Bronze said. “That’s why we were excited to play against the Courage, because we know they’re going to push us in a way that we’re not pushed in Europe.”

That’s what won’t show up in the stat sheet of this game for the Courage. Riley’s side pushed Lyon – arguably the best club in Europe and the three-time reigning UEFA champs – to the brink. Despite not winning the trophy, the Courage proved the same thing Sunday that they showed in Miami last year, that they are one of the top clubs in the world, capable of hanging with Lyon, Manchester City or any other team from any other place.

“I’m proud of the team. We lost playing at our best,” Courage midfielder Crystal Dunn said. “I think the team should be excited about the way we played. We didn’t sit in. We didn’t just allow them to play the game and us back off them, I think we played them straight up. And we had some great moments.”

Added Riley: “I think what I leave with here tonight is that we made Lyon play their very best.”

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