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August 21, 2009

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Lyon, Zurich close in on Champions League places

OLYMPIQUE Lyon virtually guaranteed its place in the Champions League group stage for the 10th successive season after thumping Anderlecht 5-1 in the first leg of their playoff final on Wednesday.

Lyon raced into a 4-0 halftime lead and, barring an unlikely reversal in next week's second leg, will go into the draw for the competition proper when it takes place in Monaco on August 27.

Zurich looks set to join it after scoring a convincing 3-0 away win over Latvian champion Ventspils and is now just 90 minutes away from a return to Europe's elite competition for the first time for 28 years.

Atletico Madrid also grabbed the advantage in its tie, winning a thriller 3-2 at Panathinaikos in Athens, as did Hungarian champion Debrecen, which beat Levski Sofia 2-1 away while Maccabi Haifa also won away, 2-1 at Salzburg.

The second legs will be played next Tuesday.

Lyon, taking part in the qualifying rounds for the first time since 2000-01 after its seven-year reign as champion came to an end in May, wasted no time in gaining control of the match with goals from its new summer signings.

Bosnian teenager Miralem Pjanic blasted it into the lead with a stunning 10th minute free-kick before new Argentine striker Lisandro doubled its lead five minutes later with a penalty.

Michel Bastos put Lyon 3-0 ahead with a superb left-foot strike that went in off a post before another new face, Bafetimbi Gomis added the fourth just before halftime.

Matias Suarez pulled one back for Anderlecht before Gomis scored his second of the night to complete the rout.

Zurich is virtually certain to make a long awaited return after beating Ventspils 3-0, all but ending its hopes of becoming the first Latvian club to reach the last 32. Johan Vonlanthen, Silvan Aegerter and Dusan Djuric were on target for the Swiss champion.

There was a great match in Athens where Maxi Rodriguez, Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero all scored for Atletico, with Dimitrios Salpingidis and Sebastian Leto scoring for Panathinaikos.

Debrecen's 2-1 win at Levski Sofia means it has a good chance of becoming the first Hungarian side to reach the last 32 since Ferencvaros in 1995-96, while Maccabi Haifa's win at Salzburg on an artificial pitch has put it in control.


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