Coupe de France 16emes : Saint-Brieuc v RC Lens
Just 21 years ago, Stade Briochin were halfway through their third season in the last four in the D2 (Ligue 2’s predecessor), before financial problems caused them to go into liquidation, lose their professional status, end their season early and tumble down France’s football pyramid.
It’s been a tough road back, but promotion as champions of their CFA2 group was sealed last May and with the club now well set in fourth place in their National 2 group, a good Coupe de France run would be a fine way to make the statement that Saint Brieuc is back.
In the last round, Maxime d’Ornano’s men overcame local rivals Vannes, beating the National 3 team 5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw (Martin Rouxel’s extra time opener for Briochin cancelled out five minutes later). Since then, impressive 4-1 and 3-1 league wins have kept the team’s confidence at a high and they will be able to rely on the backing of a capacity crowd at the Stade Fred-Aubert, who’ll hope to see the club match their best ever Coupe de France run.
Club president Guillaume Allanou has noticed that the club’s progress has caught the imagination of the Saint-Brieuc residents, with shop displays around the town showing their backing of the team, and he believes that this support can give his team the edge: “the support of the public will play an important role – the people have not forgotten [the team’s peak 20 years ago] and they want to re-live those moments. We’ve happy to give these people happiness and will try to keep the flame alight for as long as possible.”
Standing in their way are big, bad, nasty Lens of Ligue 2. They reached this stage with a 3-2 home win over Boulogne, Cristian Lopez scoring the winner after Eric Sikora’s men were taken to extra time.
Sikora has steadied the Lens ship after their well-documented horrendous start to the season and the club has lost only one of its last 12 matches in all competitions, with some talking of a late promotion tilt – although with the club still in 15th place, 13 points behind the promotion places, this seems a little fanciful. With relegation now also surely more than unlikely, there is no reason why the Sang-et-Or shouldn’t put all their eggs in the Coupe basket. As for much of this season, a lot of responsibility will fall on top scorer Lopez and his partner Kevin Fortuné, while highly rated defender Jean-Kevin Duverne will also to look to perform well with perhaps a few more Ligue 1 eyes than usual paying attention.
This should be a good test between two teams who feel that they have points to prove to the French footballing world and who are unlikely to hold back in order to grab back a little of the limelight that they’ve been missing of late.