PARIS (AP) Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes made a blunder even before the match against his club’s biggest rival.
Lyon travels to play Saint-Etienne at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Sunday in a stadium nicknamed “Le Chaudron” (The Cauldron) because of the intense, hostile atmosphere generated by passionate fans priding themselves on their industrial roots.
But even without kicking a ball, Lopes is already a marked man and should brace himself for a vitriolic reception.
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On Tuesday, Lopes was playing in a French Cup game at Marseille. For matches in that competition, players don’t have their names on the back of jerseys, only their number. Printed inside the number is the name of every team to have won the French Cup. Lopes put a clearly visible black line through Saint-Etienne’s name, prompting a furious reaction on social media.
While not one of the league’s tallest goalkeepers, Lopes is regarded as one of the bravest and is fearless off his line and commanding on corners. But he was foolhardy this time.
“I didn’t think this would reach such proportions,” Lopes told Lyon newspaper Le Progres. “I heard and read things that left me dumbfounded.”
However, the Portugal international did apologize.
“The rivalry between Lyon and Saint-Etienne is out of the ordinary and the only ones who can really understand this are the fans of both clubs,” Lopes told Le Progres. “If I upset or denigrated Saint-Etienne and its directors, then I’m really sorry. It wasn’t my intention.”
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Saint-Etienne and Lyon are separated by only 60 kilometers (37 miles) and their rivalry is one of the fiercest in French soccer.
Saint-Etienne, nicknamed “Les Verts” (The Greens), won a record 10 league titles and reached the European Cup final in 1976, losing to Bayern Munich. Les Verts were loved by neutrals – even outside of France – because of the attacking game they played. France playmaker Michel Platini scored 82 goals for the team from 1979-82 before a spectacular career with Juventus.
Following Platini’s departure – and in the aftermath of a financial scandal – Saint-Etienne fell into mediocrity.
Lyon started climbing up in the late 1990s and won seven straight titles from 2002-08 with homegrown players such as striker Karim Benzema, who now plays for Real Madrid. Lyon has been runner-up to Paris Saint-Germain the last two years, while Saint-Etienne has been sixth and fifth.
There is a lot at stake Sunday, where a Saint-Etienne win would move it within one point of fourth-place Lyon in the hunt for a Europa League spot. The build-up has been overshadowed by hectic events off the field – and not just by Lopes.
Earlier this week, Saint-Etienne fans forced winger Anthony Mounier to leave the club, just four days after arriving on loan from Italian side Bologna.
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The Frenchman had made offensive comments about Saint-Etienne when playing for Nice a few years ago. Mounier, who came through Lyon’s ranks, had scored twice in a match for Nice and celebrated in a video with a profanity-laced tirade about Saint-Etienne.
Some notable players have worn both the white jersey of Lyon and Saint-Etienne’s green. They include former France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet, striker Bernard Lacombe and Aime Jacquet – France’s World Cup-winning coach in 1998.