French Cup

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Sixth-tier French side shocks Ligue 1’s Angers

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The story in Thursday’s Le Parisien was why only 250 tickets had been sold to sixth-tier side Viry-Chatillon’s hosting of Ligue 1 side Angers in the Coupe de France.

The story on match day was much, much bigger.

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There will not be a rematch in the Coupe de France final, as Angers has been shocked by ES Viry-Chatillon.

It’s okay if you say, “Who?” (The first time, we’re all forgiven). After all, their “achievements” page on Transfermarkt is empty, though Thierry Henry did play there from ages 13-15.

The sixth-tier side from the suburbs of Paris, relegated last season from the Championnat National and boasting a Twitter following of 115, got an early second half goal from 22-year-old Mahamadou Sacko to send the 5,700 seat Stade Henri Longuet into a frenzy.

The tournament has been one of surprises in recent seasons, even at the final stages, where third-tier Les Herbiers became the ninth non-Ligue 1 side to make a final since 1996. That feat was achieved just five times between 1918-1995.

Respite for struggling Monaco with win in French League Cup

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PARIS (AP) Giulian Biancone’s goal gave Thierry Henry’s struggling Monaco side a 1-0 win over second-division side Lorient in the French League Cup on Wednesday.

Monaco is second from the bottom in the French league and desperately needed a boost after eight defeats and just two wins in 12 games since Henry took over in mid-October.

The former Arsenal star has had to deal with a huge injury crisis, forcing him to pick teenagers with little experience, including the 18-year-old Biancone.

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Biancone, who made his debut at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last month, fired a shot inside the left post in the 70th minute to send Monaco into the quarterfinals.

Also Wednesday, Dimitri Payet and Adil Rami missed penalties as Marseille crashed out in a 4-2 shootout loss at home to Strasbourg.

Patrick Vieira’s Nice also lost on penalties at home, 3-1 to the bottom team in the French league, Guingamp.

Second-division Le Havre upset Nimes 2-1, Rennes enjoyed a 2-1 win over visiting Nantes, and Bordeaux won 1-0 at Dijon.

Paris Saint-Germain, which won the domestic treble last season, scraped through with a late goal in a 2-1 win at second division Orleans on Tuesday.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

David takes on Goliath in French Cup final

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PARIS (AP) Les Herbiers players are experiencing a whole new world as they prepare for the biggest game of their careers.

In the buildup to Tuesday’s French Cup final against Paris Saint-Germain at the Stade de France, the third-division minnows have been invited to stay at Clairefontaine, the national football center known as “The Castle” where the country’s international players prepare for their matches.

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“I believe I have been staying in (Antoine) Griezmann’s room,” said Les Herbiers captain Sebastien Flochon. “It’s a dream come true, we are preparing for that final in ideal conditions. With all the history attached to this castle, we could not hope for a better place.”

In terms of players, budget, salaries and glamour, PSG and Les Herbiers – a small town with a population of just 16,000 – could not be more different. While super-rich PSG sealed the French league title with five games to spare last month, Les Herbiers has yet to secure its place in France’s third tier for next season.

The club from the Vendee region in western France has a stadium holding just 5,000 fans and a budget of about two million euros. Last summer, PSG paid 220 million euros to buy Brazil superstar Neymar from Barcelona.

And while PSG boast the likes of Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe, the Les Herbiers players don’t make headlines and reportedly earn 2,500 euros monthly on average.

To sum it up, Les Herbiers’ challenge looks like a lost cause.

“Some people rate our chances of winning at about one percent,” Flochon said. “It would be the biggest upset of the last 20 years.”

The fourth third-division side to reach the final after Nimes, Amiens and Quevilly, Les Herbiers has already beaten second-division teams Lens and Auxerre.

“Our chances are minuscule, but we will give ourselves fully,” Flochon said. “It will be important not to step onto the pitch thinking it’s already over.”

Facing one of Europe’s best attacks, Les Herbiers will be counting on goalkeeper Matthieu Pichot, who has allowed just five goals in nine cup games.

“What we have already achieved is extraordinary, some top-flight players have never experienced that,” Pichot said. “They are going to attack from everywhere and it will be a very unbalanced contest. If we manage to make them doubt, even just for a while, this final will be successful.”

Les Herbiers coach Stephane Masala’s tactics could also play a big role. A big fan of Italian football and Juventus, the 41-year-old coach is respected for his knowledge of the game and a style based on short passes.

“I’m stunned by my players’ abilities to turn thing around,” Masala said his team came from 2-0 down to beat Laval 3-2 in the league on Friday. “Knowing they took on PSG four days later, they could have given up. But no, they found the moral and mental resources to win, I’m very proud to be their coach.”

Despite the huge gap between the sides, PSG coach Unai Emery is not taking anything for granted as his players seek a fourth straight French Cup.

“It’s a final, it’s a title, it’s the French Cup,” he said. “If they got to the final, they deserve it. The best way to show respect is to play to win.”

More AP French league coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Lyon goalkeeper makes a blunder – before match even starts

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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.

Nice has only French league title to focus on after cup exit

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PARIS (AP) French league leader Nice has only the title race to focus on for the rest of the season after going out of the French Cup on Sunday.

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Nice lost 2-1 away to Lorient, which is last in the first division, despite taking the lead through top scorer Alassane Plea near the end of the first half.

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Lorient equalized with a fine individual goal from former Arsenal forward Jeremie Aliadiere in the 71st minute, and Algerian midfielder Walid Mesloub’s winner shortly after sent Lorient into the fourth round.

Nice is also out of the League Cup and the Europa League, while its title rivals Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain are still involved in all three domestic competitions and the Champions League.

That could work to Nice’s advantage. The league resumes next weekend, with Nice two points ahead of Monaco and five clear of PSG.

Meanwhile, winger Remy Cabella scored his second goal of the game in extra time as Marseille continued its fine form with a 2-1 win away to first division rival Toulouse.

Marseille is thriving under coach Rudi Garcia and has lost only one of the last seven games.

First division Metz lost 2-0 at Lens – which is chasing promotion from the second division – but all other first division sides advanced.

Brazilian striker Malcom scored a late winner as Bordeaux won 1-0 away to second division Clermont, while Caen, Angers, Saint-Etienne and Rennes beat non-league sides.

Later Sunday, Lyon was facing Montpellier in an all-first division match.