Coupe de France 8emes – RC Lens v Troyes

CDF 2018

One question when discussing cup competitions is, when is an upset not an upset? Despite being a division apart, it would not be a surprise to see Ligue 2’s RC Lens defeat Ligue 1’s Troyes in this one – which is backed up by the bookmakers.

RC Lens are three-time finalists, in 1948, 1975, and 1998, which they lost 2-1 to PSG. The 1990s and early 2000s was Lens’ golden period – followed by various financial problems, moving up and down the leagues and to-ing and fro-ing with the DNCG. One of their other cup exploits is a record that may never be broken – winning 32-0 against Auby-Asturies in the 16emes in 1943, with 16 goals for Stefan “Stanis” Dembicki – you can read more about that here. One slightly more relevant and recent factor is that they are four-time winners of the Championnat de France des tribunes – and their fans will be determined to make the stade Bollaert-Delelis a deeply unwelcoming place for their visitors.

They saw off Ligue 2 leaders Reims 3-2 in the eighth round with goals from Abdellah Zoubir and a brace from topscorer Cristian Lopez, who has 13 in all competitions, after beating regional side US Nœux-les-Mines 5-0 in the previous round, and then two other lower-ranked teams by small margins. They beat National side Boulogne 3-2 after extra time, and fourth-tier Stade Briochin in the 16emes 1-0 with another goal from Lopez.

After a terrible start to their league season in which they lost the first seven games in a row, they have recovered slightly – they are 16th – and their defence has recovered to be the best in the bottom half, but they are not out of the woods yet. A match against Valenciennes, one place higher than them in the table, is followed by a trip to Quevilly-Rouen, who are 19th, which may focus the mind, but they have a small buffer over the relegation places which should allow them to take this seriously. They are currently 2.15 for this, against Troyes’ 3.20, and will be hopeful that with their recent better form and a vibrant home atmosphere, they can prevail.

One very good reason for that is that Ligue 1’s Troyes might not be that for very much longer, as they sit 19th in the table. While they are not yet adrift, and have a game in hand after their match against Dijon at the weekend was cancelled due to flooding, they look rather underwhelming in just about every area – leading to the quietly damning judgment from a popular reference site, “Team has no significant strengths”.

One thing they do have is a consistent first team in the league, which – and this may explain some things – does not include Benjamin Nivet. The 41-year-old midfielder has only started seven games in Ligue 1, but has definitely been Troyes’ cup hero so far. It was Nivet who scored the only goal against eighth-tier FC Still, in what could have been a calamitous reverse for the top-flight side. It was also Nivet who bookended the match against Saint-Etienne with two strikes from the penalty spot – opening the scoring in the first half, and then scoring the winner in the shootout.

The visitors will be hoping this veteran of nearly 700 matches and more than 100 goals in 20 seasons can keep going just a little bit longer to push them on through this competition. Semi-finalists in 2001 and 2013, a cup run would no doubt provide some much-needed cheer, but Jean-Louis Garcia’s concentration may be on the trip to Strasbourg at the weekend, and so he also might be relying on a spark of stubborn genius from Nivet.    

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