Fekir's quality the difference

Lyon captain Nabil Fekir (right) celebrates scoring the equaliser against Shakhtar Donetsk with teammate Ferland Mendy in a freezing Olympic Stadium in Kiev on Wednesday.
Lyon captain Nabil Fekir (right) celebrates scoring the equaliser against Shakhtar Donetsk with teammate Ferland Mendy in a freezing Olympic Stadium in Kiev on Wednesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Skipper's superb equaliser seals last-16 spot for Lyon but he prefers to praise team effort

KIEV • Nabil Fekir put on a captain's display to fire Lyon into the Champions League last 16 for the first time in seven years after bagging the crucial equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.

The French forward curled in a superb left-footed strike into the top corner in the 65th minute to cancel out Junior Moraes' 22nd-minute opener for Shakhtar, who had to play the match at the Olympic Stadium some 700km from Donetsk after martial law was declared in Ukraine's border regions amid tensions with Russia.

Lyon needed to avoid defeat by Shakhtar to progress from Group F with Manchester City, and a fifth successive draw in the competition achieved that aim.

Nabil, a former Liverpool target, played down his goal and instead deflected praise to his "heroic" teammates, with the match played in driving snow in Kiev.

"We knew it wouldn't be easy here, especially with the snow. We persisted," the 25-year-old told RMC Sport. "We conceded when we were playing well, but we kept going. Even if I scored the goal, I think the whole team were heroic and showed up well.

"We hadn't qualified for the last 16 for quite some time and now we'll wait for the draw. I hope we come up against a good club and play good games."

Lyon coach Bruno Genesio praised his team's efforts in the difficult conditions.

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  • Defeats Lyon suffered as they completed their Champions League group unbeaten (one win, five draws).

"I'm very proud of the players because we came here to play and didn't come away from home to play for a draw," he told RMC Sport. "I'm really pleased that Nabil scored the goal as people have been questioning him of late."

It had looked like Lyon were destined to be knocked out in freezing Kiev after missing many chances before the crucial leveller from Fekir, whose future is uncertain following interest from English clubs.

"We did everything we could to keep hold of the lead, we couldn't do it... The individual quality of Fekir made the difference," said Shakhtar coach Paulo Fonseca.

In the other match, City survived a sloppy start to secure top spot in Group F by coming from behind to beat Hoffenheim 2-1 thanks to Leroy Sane's double.

Andrej Kramaric's penalty put the German side in front on 16 minutes as another much-changed City side struggled to get up to speed.

However, Pep Guardiola's men drew level just before the break courtesy of a brilliant Sane free kick. The German winger then secured victory by converting Raheem Sterling's pass on the hour mark.

"We started flat because this team are so demanding in terms of how they attack the space, their physicality, they are stronger than us," said Guardiola.

"After that, we created an incredible amount of chances, but the result is good. We are in the best 16, now we are going to see the draw and especially try to arrive in the right moment."

City could face Atletico Madrid, Schalke, Ajax or Roma in Monday's draw.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2018, with the headline 'Fekir's quality the difference'. Print Edition | Subscribe