March 3, 2008 / 8:45 PM / 10 years ago

Lyon coach Perrin denies player rift

MANCHESTER (Reuters) - Coach Alain Perrin dismissed talk of a rift between his leading young players as Olympique Lyon prepared to face Manchester United on Tuesday for a place in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa, both 20, are vying for top billing with the French champions, who will be looking to cause an upset at Old Trafford after drawing 1-1 in the first leg of the first knockout round tie.

“I wouldn’t say they go out as best mates but at the same time there is nothing to stop them playing in the same side. There are no problems with team spirit whatsoever,” Perrin told a news conference in Manchester on Monday.

Benzema and Perrin have also had their differences over the player’s role in the team, but the coach believes the France international could hold the key to Lyon’s hopes of knocking out United.

Benzema, who is well thought of by United manager Alex Ferguson, scored Lyon’s goal in the first leg and is leading scorer in French domestic football with 16 league goals.

Perrin, returning to England following an unsuccessful spell as manager of Portsmouth in 2005, added: ”Benzema is one of the key players who could make the difference for us.

”You’ve got the likes of Juninho, (Sidney) Govou and Ben Arfa possibly as well and he is certainly on that list who could make the difference.

“At any moment he can make a chance for himself and score.”

Lyon are underdogs but they have already won at Stuttgart and Rangers to seal their qualification from the group stage.

Veteran goalkeeper Gregory Coupet, who played his 500th game for the club in the first leg last month, said: ”It’s great to be going into a game not as favourites.

”That could work positively. We are going to go out there and fight and I see the tie as 50-50 at the moment.

“We know we have to score but we know as a team we are capable of scoring at any time and that helps us in our quest.”

Brazilian central defender Cris played his first game since August following a knee injury in Lyon’s win over Lille on Saturday and will be fit to face United.

Editing by Rex Gowar

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