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Pep: Barca 'strongest team'

Champions League

Antoine Griezmann relishing Lyon test

Lyon won't be disheartened if they lose their UEFA Champions League play-off against Real Sociedad and end up in the Europa League, according to manager Remi Garde.

Real Sociedad's French-born midfielder Antoine Griezmann is determined to deny his boyhood heroes Lyon a place in this season's group stage.

• Brassell: Fast-flowing Griezmann

Born in Macon, some 70 kilometres from Lyon, Griezmann, 22, made the short trip to the Stade de Gerland to watch the likes of Juninho Pernambucano and Michael Essien in action for OL in European club football's premier club competition.

The attacking midfielder joined Sociedad in 2006, however, and played a key role in their fourth-placed finish in La Liga last season, a result which has left them with a two-legged play-off against Lyon to secure a group-stage berth and revived childhood memories for Griezmann.

"They've been my club since I was little. Before, I used to go and watch Champions League games with my dad. In Spain, they're considered a big European club and they're talking a lot about it as there was a Champions League game against Real Sociedad. They're a historic club for Spanish people," he told the press.

"As soon as I went out onto the pitch to see it and the stadium, there was a lot of emotion. I even showed my team-mates where I used to watch matches with my dad. There was a lot of emotion, but also a lot of desire, for the game to come, to put my boots on and be able to play this very important game for us."

When the teams met in the last 16 of the 2003-04 season, a Lyon side featuring Essien, Juninho, Gregory Coupet, Edmilson and Florent Malouda sealed 1-0 wins in both legs.

Remi Garde's starting XI that will take to the Gerland pitch on Tuesday evening will contain far fewer household names, and even with regard to the 21 players used as Lyon surprisingly reached the last four of the 2009-10 competition, only captain Maxime Gonalons remains in the current squad.

Garde, 47, is unconcerned fledgling talents, such as Alexandre Lacazette and Clement Grenier, who were both capped by France this summer, have little more than last season's run to the last 32 of the Europa League in terms of continental experience, and believes the safety net of having already booked a return to Europe's second-tier competition with their third qualifying round disposal of Grasshopper Zurich will help his side tap their potential against Sociedad.

Garde, whose side have conceded a single goal in four competitive fixtures this season, said: "The club's experience is something the players can use. There's a big difference between this game and Zurich because the club's guaranteed European football.

"Even if the Europa League isn't the Champions League, the players know that there's no abyss below them, because it's good to play the Europa League too. In the first tie, the club wasn't sure to play in Europe, but that threat has now been lifted, and we're completely focussed on the objective we all want to attain."


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