Coupe de France 32emes : USM Senlis v FC Nantes

When Nantes, fifth in Ligue 1, travelled to Amiens for their last match of 2017, some ‘neutrals’ in the stands were watching them intently – the president of USM Senlis and his staff had made the drive up to check out the opposition for the 9th round of the Coupe de France. Eric Guillot ended up having a chat with his opposite number, Canaris’ president Waldemar Kita, who wondered if the fifth-tier club wouldn’t prefer to play in Nantes – while les Senlisiens will not be playing at their home stadium, they have chosen nearby Beauvais, Guillot chuckling that Kita didn’t seem to be aware where the match is being played…

It has been 30 years since USM Senlis made it to this stage in the competition – but then they did so twice in three seasons, both as a fourth-division side. In 1987 they lost 1-0 at Rouen, to a first-minute penalty, but two years prior, had their grandest of grands chocs – pushing Olympique Marseille to extra-time and then to penalties after it ended 1-1. OM – that team featuring Eric di Meco and Laurie Cunningham – prevailed.

Mostly in the 6th or 7th tier since the early 2000s, Senlis won promotion back to the fifth tier for 2016-17, where they now sit fifth in the Hauts-de-France group. As well as consolidating their position in National 3, they have been negotiating a long Coupe de France campaign, all against lower-ranked sides. After travelling to see off a run of District teams, they were at home for the last two rounds. Louis Mafouta got a brace to give them the victory 2-1 over US Vimy in the seventh round, but was suspended for the next game, against US Choisy-au-Bac; the perfect time for midfielder Jeffrey Damour to score his first goal of the season, followed by Alexandre Neto and Amine El Farissi for a 3-1 win. Mafouta – who has appeared and apparently scored for the Central African Republic – also got the opener in USM’s pre-cup friendly against another of the smaller teams taking part, SC Hazebrouck, which ended in a draw.

Senlis’ talismanic striker should be back for the Nantes games, but Guillot is well aware how difficult the job will be:

« On va devoir accomplir un sacré exploit si on veut continuer l’aventure. Le bloc defensif de Nantes m’impressionne, c’est tres costaud! » 

“We will have to accomplish a great feat if we want to continue this adventure. The defensive block of Nantes is impressive, it is very strong!”

Nantes have an extremely neat league record of 18 scored, 18 conceded – their high position comes from that parsimonious defence protecting the less-than-flamboyant attack, as all ten wins so far this season have been by one goal, seven of those matches only involving that one goal. Surprisingly knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue by Tours, they are not busy next midweek, so hopefully Claudio Ranieri will let some younger players – not that there are that many on the books – have some playing time. In the opposite dugout, ex-PSG / HAC / Rennes striker and father of Nolan, Bruno Roux will be the latest manager to try to work out how to take down that bloc defensif.

It seems unlikely he will manage it, but if Nantes’ attack cannot click, another trip to extra time, and maybe penalties, could be the next chapter in Les Senlisiens’ cup history.

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