l’Euphorie Pure: Coupe de France Quarter-Final – Etoile FC Fréjus-Saint-Raphaël v EA Guingamp

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Quarter-final stage of the Coupe de France, possibly the world’s largest cup competition, and two amateur sides are still in it. One is Etoile FC Fréjus-Saint Raphaël, of fourth-tier CFA, who have already made club history but want to make a little bit more. They face En Avant Guingamp, eighth in Ligue 1, and a tricky prospect for teams much higher in the pyramid (they’ve beaten PSG, OM, and Lyon *twice* in the league). But this is cup football; this is petits poucets and magie de la coupe.

Etoile FC have been in this competition for a while – after the early rounds they saw off fellow CFA side Grenoble 2-1 in the round of 64, CFA2’s Prix-lès-Mézières 1-0 in the round of 32, and, crucially, Ligue 2’s Auxerre 2-0 in the round of 16. Goalkeeper Gaëtan Deneuve was key in that historic victory, but to say striker Neupocoussek Mendy, who scored the first goal (Karim Tlili got the second), was over the moon would be underplaying it.

« Déjà jouer en CFA, c’est formidable ! Mais une qualif’ pour les quarts de finale de Coupe de France ? Là, c’est l’euphorie pure ! Je ne réalise pas. Depuis tout petit, j’ai toujours vu Auxerre en Ligue 1, en Ligue 2, avec des joueurs que j’idolâtrais comme Djibril Cissé ! Marquer contre Auxerre… Pffff… »

Guingamp’s record is to beat Ligue 2’s Le Havre, National’s Les Herbiers, and serial cupsetters Quevilly-Rouen (National) in the last round – all 2-1. Eighth in Ligue 1, they beat Nancy 1-0 on Friday, Sloan Privat with the goal. Jimmy Briand might be their top-scorer, but Marcus Coco is the player who excites – still just 20, he has four league goals from the right wing, and is surely a star of the future.

A recent article in 20 Minutes gives a fascinating insight into what this means for Etoile FC. Director Damien Espiell lifted the lid on a few of the issues that face an amateur CFA side making it this far, like…finding a stadium. Their home ground, le Stade Louis-Hon, has a capcity of only 3,000 – and ‘VIP status’ just means having a separate place to have a drink at half-time. After looking into a few options – “hiring the Velodrome wasn’t really within our means” – they will be playing at the Stade Pierre de Coubertin in Cannes; and have ordered five petits-fours per head in the hospitality. Each player has five tickets allocated to them, so “they have to make a choice!”

They will be missing some key supporters, however, as the timing (6pm) and location of the match is not ideal for their younger player-members. The club has even asked local schools to let the kids leave early – “we’ve signed excuse notes for them” – are comping the tickets and putting on busses, but fear that many will struggle to attend.

For the players, one has a particular motive for this match – defender Stephane Marignale has already played a quarter-final in the Coupe de France – in Cannes, when they were also in CFA, and against Guingamp. “We lost,” he says, “I dream of revenge…we have nothing to lose!” Another member of team Etoile is definitely behind that – head of security Jean Casale recently won the Petanque Coupe de France – which he showed to the players, who said “we’ll win you the other one”.

Manager Charly Paquillé and his team will have a big job to overturn Guingamp, who seem to have recovered from a poor start to 2017, when the early cup rounds were all they were winning. Their inability to keep a clean sheet in those games will give the home team hope, however, as will the fact that EAG travel to PSG on Sunday.

Antoine Kombouare’s pre-match press conference implied that there will be some rotation, but that despite Etoile’s strengths, he expects his team to dominate, and live up to their status as favourites. With EAG six points off fifth place, the last guaranteed European league spot, and with memories of the 2009 and 2014 victories in this competition still fresh, expect the Ligue 1 side to approach this in a businesslike fashion. However if Etoile FC can keep things tight at the back, as they have proved they can do, if this is odds-on for Guingamp to win, it may not be by a large margin.

Squads :

Etoile FC : Deneuve, Ousseni – Adhadhi, Baldé, Dumas, Moreira, Marignale, Tibéri – Dao Castellana, Delvigne, Diaw, Gbohou, Orinel, Reynaud – Mendes Da Silva, Mendy, Soly, Tlili

Guingamp : Johnsson, Guivarch – Ikoko, Kerbrat, Martins Pereira, Bodmer, Marçal – Sankoh, Deaux, Didot, Diallo, Giresse, Blas – Privat, Briand, De Pauw, Coco, Mendy

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