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Europa Cup Final: Lyon on high alert as OM fans mass for Atletico showdown

By Samindra Kunti in Lyon

May 16 – Hosts Lyon are on red alert as thousands of Marseille fans descend on the city ahead of the European Cup final with Atletico Madrid. Stringent security measures have been implemented to prevent any scuffles or violence. For the match itself football bookmaker Unibet has the odds stacked firmly in favour of Atletico.

“This is a final,” said the Rhone’s deputy head of security and defence Etienne Stoskop. “We have set up a system that is twice as high as what we mobilised during the Euro 2016 games. It’s an event that must first remain festive. But we will be extremely vigilant, because as you know there is a certain amount of antagonism between supporters and it’s this risk that we want to prevent.”

The antagonism Stoskop fears has little to do with bad blood between French and Spanish fans, but rather with the local rivalry between Olympique Marseille, finalists, and Olympique Lyon, who were in eliminated in the round of sixteen by CSKA Moscow.  The strong rivalry has given rise to concerns over hooliganism by the Marseille fans.

Some Marseille fans have promised to “break everything” in Lyon. Following the provocations, Olympique Lyon filed a complaint earlier this month. “Due to the danger that this inadmissible behaviour may entail, Lyon have decided to resort to the prosecutor’s office of the Court of Lyon to present a claim for provocations related to the crime of destructive and dangerous actions from the supporters,” the club explained in a statement.

The animosity between the two clubs has been high this season. Both sets of players fought during a league match. In the Ligue 1 table, with one match to go, Marseille trails third-place Lyon by one point with only the top three headed to the Champions League.

Around 1,250 policemen have been deployed, including ten mobile units, two water cannons and a helicopter. They must prevent fans from Marseille and Lyon from clashing.

Atletico fans have snapped up 9,500 tickets, Marseille fans 11,500, but local authorities fear thousands of OM fans turning up without tickets. The local authorities are also wary of Atletico Madrid’s limited group of extreme right hooligans.

On Tuesday, the local police had a strong presence at the fanzone near Parc Bellcour.

Lyon club president Jean Michel Aulas, who had dreamed of playing the final at his home ground with Lyon, has reassured both clubs that they will receive a proper welcome and that he will sit next to his rival Jacques-Henri Eyraud in the stands. Previously, both presidents had exchanged heated words.

“I hope it stays within the boundaries of football and there isn’t any damage,” said Marseille defender Adil Rami. “I hope we’re all intelligent enough not to ruin this party.”

Once the match kick offs, Marseille will be considered underdogs against the cunning team of Diego Simeone. The Spaniards knocked out Arsenal in the semi-finals and have good pedigree in European club competitions. They have, however, lost their last three European club finals, including two Champions League finals against city rivals Real Madrid.

“This team has the character and personality needed to win,” said Atletico midfielder Gabi Fernandez. “The only thing we have in mind is winning.”

Marseille won the first edition of the Champions League in 1993, 25 years ago. They reached the UEFA Cup final in 2004, losing 2-0 to Valencia.

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