Puel hopeful despite away goal disappointment

LYON, France, Feb 23, 2011 (AFP) - Lyon coach Claude Puel believes his side can still reach the Champions League quarter-finals despite having conceded an away goal to Real Madrid in the first leg of their last 16 tie.

Lyon old boy Karim Benzema came back to haunt his former employers by scoring the opening goal in Tuesday night's match at Stade Gerland, before Bafetimbi Gomis atoned for a shocking first-half miss with an 83rd-minute equaliser.

Lyon's Michel Bastos (R) vies with Real Madrid's Angel Fabian Di Maria during the Champions League match on February 22, 2011 at the Gerland stadium in Lyon. AFP

With an away goal to their name, Real are now favourites to go through ahead of the return leg in Madrid, which would bring an end to a six-year run of consecutive last-16 exits for the nine-time European champions.

Lyon were left to rue their failure to capitalise on a dominant first-half showing on home turf but Puel said they were still optimistic ahead of the trip to the Bernabeu on March 16.

"We produced a very encouraging performance from a collective and defensive perspective but we also knew how to create opportunities and we weren't far away from taking them," he said.

"It therefore gives us enough confidence ahead of the return leg as anything will be possible there, even though a 1-1 draw is always annoying because of the away goal scored by your opponents."

Lyon are bidding to oust Real in the last 16 for the second season running, having prevailed 2-1 on aggregate in last season's competition.

Puel refused to speculate on where the balance of power lay in the tie after the first leg but did express hope that his team would be able to repeat their exploits of 2010.

"... (I)t gives us a chance, given the individuals we have and the reaction we showed against Real," said Puel, who led Lyon to the semi-finals for the first time in their history last season.

"It's up to us to seize these opportunities because we're not just here to play Real but to beat them."

Puel's words were echoed by Gomis, who also said he was pleased to have atoned for the 34th-minute miss that saw him spoon the ball over an open goal after Iker Casillas had spilled a Michel Bastos cross at his feet.

"After we conceded the goal, we showed character and we were able to come back, which gives us a chance for the return leg," said the former Saint-Etienne frontman.

"It's my goal but my friends helped me a fair bit. I was lucky to get a nice flick-on from Cris.

"After my chance in the first half, I knew that I'd get another one and that I'd have to keep my cool."

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