Coupe de France 16emes : Montpellier HSC v FC Lorient
Two former winners face off in this as Montpellier, seventh in Ligue 1, welcome FC Lorient, sixth in Ligue 2.
Lorient won in 2002, beating SC Bastia 1-0 after knocking out (amongst others) Rennes, PSG, and Nimes. Prankster Remi Gaillard got himself on the pitch – and into the final’s wikipedia page – after disguising himself as a player, joining in the celebrations, and shaking hands with Jacques Chirac.
Montpellier have to look a little further back for their victories. The first was in 1929 (as Sports Olympiques Montpelliérains), beating near-neighbours and later powerhouses of the 1930s FC Sete 2-0, with goals from two of their three Swiss Kramer brothers, Auguste and Edmond. The second came in 1990 with a team featuring Laurent Blanc and Eric Cantona, with Carlos Valderrama and current MHSC manager Eric der Zakarian also playing their part in the campaign. They beat Racing Paris 2-1 after extra time in the final with goals from Blanc and Kader Ferhaoui, after knocking out Nantes and Saint-Etienne on the way.
Back to the present day, then.
Lorient, after a fine start to the season including seven back-to-back wins (two in the Coupe de la Ligue, before being knocked out by Caen in the 16emes), have stuttered a little in the league, but comfortably beat two regional teams in the early rounds before knocking out beleaguered Angers 2-0 in the last round with goals from Pierre-Yves Hamel and Denis Bouanga in the first half.
Bouanga is their top-scorer in the league with nine, but they have a dozen other scorers on the sheet, and the departing Abdul Majeed Waris only accounts for one goal. The best attack in Ligue 2 outside the top two will be trying to keep that form going as they travel to the best defence in Ligue 1, Montpellier.
MHSC had the nearest of near misses in the last round as they travelled to fifth-tier CA Pontarlier and needed penalties to prevail after it ended 1-1 after extra time (Daniel Congre the scorer) and Pedro Mendes was sent off on 74 minutes. They are unbeaten since before Christmas, however, including a goalless draw with Monaco and most recently a 95th minute winner from Giovanni Sio against Toulouse, which probably did for Pascal Dupraz.
La Paillade don’t score an awful lot (20 in 22 in the league) so this might be a cagey defensive performance from the hosts, lightened only by the feeling that another draw and subsequent stresses might be bad for everybody’s nerves.
This is a tricky one to call, then, as Montpellier will travel to PSG on Saturday to see if they can at least replicate their point in the league before travelling to Monaco next Wednesday for the Coupe de la Ligue semi-final, hoping to replicate ditto there.
That’s a tough couple of games for a team that knows it needs to rely on defensive focus; if Lorient can catch them on the hop early, things could get very interesting. The first goal here should be key – or lack of it.