Lille coach Jocelyn Gourvennec paid tribute to the confidence and intelligence of his squad after they won their last three games to become the first set of Lille players to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League as winners of their group.
But they came from behind to beat Sevilla 2-1 on 2 November. Three weeks later Jonathan David scored the only goal of the game in the hard-fought triumph over Salzburg at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.
David was also on the scoresheet on Wednesday night in Germany in the 3-1 success at Wolfsburg to give them 11 points and the kudos of pole position.
“The trigger was our victory in Seville,” said Gourvennec who took over at the French champions in July.
“After that we knew that it was possible to qualify. We did what we needed to do against Salzburg at home. And against Wolfsburg we showed composure and maturity. We stayed focused as a collective."
Lille will go into Monday’s draw for the last 16 for the first time since the 2006/7 Champions League competition. They could face champions Chelsea as well as the likes of Atletico Madrid or Porto.
“It doesn’t matter who we get. What we’ve done so far is historic,” added Gourvennec.
“We are proud of it. We will play the second leg of the last 16 at home and we’ll be able to celebrate that with our fans.”
The European hot streak contrasts sharply with tepid performances in Ligue 1.
Lille, who pipped Paris Saint-Germain to the 2021 title, lie 11th in the French top flight with 24 points from their 17 games. The defending champions are closer to the relegation zone than the places for next season's European competitions.
“These kind of performances in the Champions League can help the players cultivate self-esteem," said Gourvennec.
"This often makes the difference. They’ve got that feeling because of this win. If we can keep this confidence we can do great things.”