By Eddie Chikamhi
A month after he emerged the hero in the Rhone-Alpes derby against Saint-Etienne, Zimbabwean international Tino Kadewere needed another big stage to assert his growing reputation in Europe after leading Olympique Lyon to a big win over star-studded Paris Saint-Germain in the French Ligue 1 football match on Sunday night.
Kadewere is raising the Zimbabwean flag high following his explosive start in the French top-flight football league. His clinical finish against PSG on Sunday night was his fifth goal in eight appearances.
On a night when the sport headlines were supposed to have been crafted around the Parisian superstars like Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria, Kadewere somehow drew the limelight to himself.
The slump for PSG at the Parc des Princes sent the first place to Lille, who defeated Bordeaux 2-1 earlier in the day. Lyon are second on goal difference while PSG are one point off in third place. Marseille are fourth one further point behind but with two games in hand.
What added to the woes of the capital club was the injury of its ace forward Neymar, who was screaming in agony and clutching his ankle after a heavy tackle by Thiago Mendes. The Brazil star was carried off on a stretcher and his countryman Mendes was shown a direct red card.
The solitary strike by Kadewere decided the intriguing top-of-the-table clash. It was an expertly taken goal, which won him plaudits, including from the top French sports magazine, L’Equipe, which gave him a rating of 7/10.
L’Equipe is the most prestigious daily sports newspaper in the world.
“We’re very happy, it was very important for us to win, we worked well all week for this game. We stayed focused the whole game,” said Kadewere (24) in the post-match interview.
“It was also beautiful for me, I’m happy to have scored, it was my first very big game in Europe, so I’m happy to have scored and to come away with the win.”
Kadewere’s goal was even more special because this was Lyon’s first win in Paris in 14 attempts.
The last time they picked up all three points at the Parc des Princes was all the way back in October 2007 when Hatem Ben Arfa — who later turned out for PSG — struck twice in a 3-2 win with Lyon on the march to their record seventh consecutive Ligue 1 title.
The win on Sunday night took Lyon joint-top with Lille while PSG dropped into third place. And, it appears Lyon are geared up to challenge for the title again this season after falling the holders, PSG, who had led the race in the last few weeks.
Three of the Lyon players, including Kadewere, were selected into the Team of the Week by leading French sports magazine, L’Equipe, yesterday. The magazine announced that Lyon had the lion’s share in their typical team of the 14th day, with three players and the best coach.
The team was selected as a reflection of the best performers from the 20 Ligue 1 teams during the weekend. Apart from Kadewere, defender Jason Denayer, midfielder Lucas Paqueta and their coach Rudi Garcia were all included in the Team of the Week for the first time this season.
Kadewere played 77 minutes and was replaced by Ivorian international, Sinaly Diomande. Curiously, none of the PSG stars made it into the L’Equipe Team of the Week.
It has been amazing how Kadewere has to strike a good understanding with his Lyon teammates. Many people had expected him to struggle just to break into the team when he arrived from French Ligue 2 side Le Havre where he had also shone after winning the second-tier Golden Boot with 20 goals.
The Zimbabwean is now the third Lyon player with five goals or more in Ligue 1 along with Memphis Depay (6) and Toko-Ekambi (7).
It can be argued that this could be one of the best striking trio in Europe’s top leagues. For the record, Lyon have three different players at five-plus goals in Ligue 1 this season, more than any side in the top five European leagues in 2020/21.
It was also amazing how they eclipsed the world’s most expensive strikeforce featuring Neymar, who had an asking price of £222 million when he joined from Barcelona.
This is still a world record transfer. Interestingly the second most expensive player, Mbappe, who cost PSG £145 million in 2017, was also on show on Sunday after coming in as a 64th minute substitute.
Instead, it was Kadewere, who moved to Lyon for a modest £12 million earlier this year, who emerged the hero of the day with a clinical 35th minute finish after latching on to Ekambi’s through ball.
“It was a collective effort which saw Lyon pick up all three points here, every player pressing when out of possession and using the full width of the Parc des Princes pitch when on the ball, but Kadewere deserves a special mention,” reported the Lyon media.
“He ran down PSG just as hard as Toko Ekambi or indeed full-backs Léo Dubois and Maxwel Cornet, but he also displayed the most ruthless finishing at the other end.
“Pencilled in for a bit-part role following his summer arrival from Le Havre AC, Kadewere has made himself impossible for Garcia to drop.
“Kadewere put the visitors in front 10 minutes before the interval with a low, angled shot after being set up by Karl Toko-Ekambi.
“Despite Thiago Mendes being sent off very late on, Les Gones held on and left Paris with three points for the first time in 13 years!”
With Lille having moved provisionally top of the table earlier in the day following their 2-1 win over Bordeaux, both sides knew they could snatch first place with a win — although for Lyon they needed to do so by three goals to claim it outright.
They had many of the better chances in the first half. PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas saved well from an acrobatic Kadewere volley which was subsequently called back for off-side in the 23rd minute.
However, the Zimbabwean striker gave his side a deserved lead, latching onto Ekambi’s through ball. Lyon are now unbeaten in 11 league games.
“I take a lot of pleasure in playing with my partners, we make a lot of effort but we do them together and that’s the most important thing. On goal, Tino makes a very nice call so it made sense to give him the ball,” said Toko-Ekambi.
Lyon’s manager Garcia added: “It’s a result that is very satisfying — we had prepared for this game tactically so that we could defend well and keep the ball well. We had some very good phases of play, we could have been a little better in the final third.
“However, we defended admirably well, everyone was excellent about not giving this team any chances. As soon as we can keep attacking players like these quiet, we will always have a good chance of getting a result . . . We must not stop there.
“We wanted to stay on this unbeaten run; it’s been 11 matches now and we played three out of our last four matches on the road including one in Paris and we won them all, so that’s great. The objective is to put the teams that are behind us as far away as possible, this is not yet the case, it is absolutely necessary to collect wins like these and to put third and fourth place as far behind us as possible.” The Herald.