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There is still magic in the French Cup

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La Magie de la Coupe is thriving in France. While the big European leagues demand more and more of our attention, the simple pleasure of a humble domestic cup is becoming more marginalised. This weekend, however, the biggest and arguably greatest cup competition in world football – led by the usual cast of postmen, builders and shop assistants – fought back for attention against the modern behemoths of Europe’s top five leagues and the Champions League.

Given that there are only three national leagues in France above the sprawling regional divisions, the scale of French football can be a little overwhelming. More than 8,000 teams entered the Coupe de France this season and not all of them are from within the country’s borders. Teams from French overseas departments and regions – such as Réunion in the Indian Ocean, Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean Sea, and Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean – all compete in the Coupe de France. ASPV Strasbourg travelled 20,000 miles to New Caledonia and back in November to face against Hienghène Sport in a seventh-round tie that makes Bournemouth v Newcastle look like a local derby.

Overseas sides regularly defy expectations. Last season Aiglon du Lamentin – who are based in the Caribbean island of Martinique – travelled to second-tier US Orléans and were only beaten 3-2 in extra time; Le Mans travelled to Réunion the season before and scraped past AS Excelsior by the same scoreline. Excelsior also made headlines in 2017, when they travelled to Lille and pushed the 2011 Ligue 1 winners all the way. They made it to injury time just 2-1 down before conceding two late goals as they pushed for an equaliser.

The exotic away trips and sheer scale of the competition only account for a small part of the cup’s charm. The Coupe de France is synonymous with upsets. Teams from the top two divisions lose to lower league clubs so often that it was almost a surprise to see the likes of Marseille and Angers – were both dumped out by lower league sides last season – squeeze past their less illustrious opponents in the round-of-64 earlier this month, with Marseille still needing penalties to see off fourth division Trélissac.

This weekend produced another round of quintessential Coupe de France action. FC Pau, who play in the third tier, beat Bordeaux 3-2 after extra time; fourth-division Belfort routed Ligue 2 side Nancy 3-1 – their 18-year-old goalkeeper saved a penalty and was carried off on fans’ shoulder at full-time; Saint-Pierroise – the last remaining overseas side in the cup this season – travelled 6,000 miles from Réunion to face fourth-tier Épinal, took the game to extra time and only lost 1-0 after conceding in the 118th minute; Monaco face a trip to fourth tier St-Pryve St Hilaire on Monday night in a classic Coupe de France mismatch; and FC Limonest edged out fellow fifth-tier club Prix-Les-Mezieres to join Épinal and ASM Belfort in the last-16.

The Coupe de France offers many lessons to other fading cup competitions across the continent. The heart of the competition still lies with the average football fan and the many provincial clubs that have made the cup what it is. Until the ninth round, ties are divided into smaller regions, which cuts down the distances supporters have to travel. The lower ranked team always plays at home, which adds to the traditional cup feeling.

When smaller sides are drawn against prestigious clubs from the top two divisions, they often move the ties to bigger stadiums for financial reasons, but Ligue 1 teams often find themselves playing on the dodgiest of pitches at grounds that look like local parks. With clubs from the second and third tiers entering the fray early on – often drawing each other – smaller clubs have genuine chances of progressing; fourth division AS Vitre made it to the quarter-finals last season without having to play an opponent from Ligue 1.

Vitre’s success is by no means an anomaly. Les Herbiers were in the third division when they met PSG in the final two years ago; Quevilly were also in the third tier when they lost the 2012 final 1-0 to Lyon; Guingamp managed to win the cup in 2009 when they were still a Ligue 2 side; and fourth-division Calais famously took the lead against Ligue 1 Nantes in the 2000 final before succumbing to an Antoine Sibierski brace. Overall, the last 20 finals have featured nine teams from outside Ligue 1, with 25 quarter-finalists and eight semi-finalists hailing from Ligue 2 or below in the last decade.

Given that the sterile Coupe de la Ligue is being scrapped after this season and the introduction of a European Super League seems inevitable, the Coupe de France plays a key role in representing grassroots and lower league football across the continent and further afield. Vive la magie de la coupe.

Talking points

Rayan Cherki contributed to all four goals in Lyon’s 4-3 victory against Nantes in the French Cup.



Rayan Cherki contributed to all four goals in Lyon’s 4-3 victory against Nantes in the French Cup. Photograph: Romain Lafabregue/AFP via Getty Images

The “Cherki Show” read L’Équipe’s front page on Sunday morning after 16-year-old attacking midfielder Rayan Cherki had led Lyon to a thrilling 4-3 win at Nantes in the cup. Cherki, who has excited the club since his early teens, scored two goals and set up the other two for teammates. The teenager was awarded a rare nine out of 10 from L’Équipe. He is skilful, direct and creative, as well as boasting a surprising physicality for his age. Cherki’s emergence in the last month has come at a good time for Lyon. With talismanic captain Memphis Depay and fellow attacking midfielder and major summer signing Jeff Reine-Adélaïde both out for the rest of the campaign, Lyon’s latest youth talent could provide some much-needed impetus for a flagging side, with the fight for European places proving extremely tight. Cherki is destined for the very top of the European game sooner or later. French football’s prolific player production shows no sign of letting up.

The relative calm that has descended over the Stade Vélodrome this season may only last so long. André Villas-Boas has enacted a quiet revolution at the club, with their effective and efficient football making them clear favourites for second place. Typically, however, they might have engineered their own implosion. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Villas-Boas publicly criticised club president Jacques-Henri Eryaud’s decision to appoint former West Ham director Paul Aldridge as an advisor to aid the sale of players to English clubs. “It is not by hiring an advisor that will make things work,” said Villas-Boas. “It is the competitiveness of your team that can open certain doors in the English market… in six months we’ve given stability to one of the most emotionally unstable clubs in the world. My interest as the manager is to hold on to this squad.” Amid reports that Villas-Boas could resign in protest, he said he “was not informed by the president about this decision,” and that the only explanation he received was via the media rather than from Eyraud himself. Once again, Marseille are proving to be their own worst enemy.

Coupe de France results

Quick guide

Coupe de France results

Athlético Marseille 0-2 Rennes
Dijon 5-0 Nîmes
Montpellier 5-0 Caen,
Rouen 1-4 Angers
Lorient 0-1 PSG
AS Prix-les-Mezieres 0-1 Limonest
Epinal 1-0 JS Saint-Pierroise
Nice 2-1 Red Star FC
Belfort 3-1 Nancy
ESM Gonfreville 0-2 Lille
Angoulême 1-5 Strasbourg
Paris FC 2-3 Saint-Étienne
Nantes 3-4 Lyon
US Granvillaise 0-3 Marseille
Pau 3-2 Bordeaux

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This is an article from Get French Football News
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