“This Coupe de la Ligue was very important; we owed it to ourselves to shine in one of the domestic cups.”
The comments of Paris Saint-Germain boss Laurent Blanc after their 2-1 victory over Olympique Lyonnais in the League Cup final. I was at the game to witness the final and the state in which French football is currently standing, unfortunately it’s not a state worth boasting.
Having purchased a trip to Paris four months prior to the final, I didn’t have a clue that I would be one of the lucky eighty-one thousand spectators in the Stade De France that night. Once I realized that the cup final landed on the day of my trip, I immediately applied for tickets. After waiting just thirty minutes in a queue of hopefuls, I was sent an e-mail confirming our tickets to the final.
I’ve been to tournament matches before, including a semi-final in Wembley, but never to a foreign final. I was very interested to see if comparisons could be made between the two countries, how the fans conduct themselves for the game, and how the reactions are during the game.
Purchasing the tickets had told me how different things would be from the beginning. Getting a ticket for a semi-final in the F.A Cup often means waiting in long lines. It is considerably different from just going onto the Stade De France website and selecting ‘purchase tickets.’ The laid back attitude would follow all the way to the end, which in my opinion is a better way of watching the game.
I left for the train at 6pm, trying to get there as early as possible to soak in the atmosphere. We arrived at the station twenty minutes later and left the train to enter a festival-like-area. This area had dance music blaring from the speakers and both sets of fans were talking and enjoying themselves. Could you imagine that happening in the UK? Both fans getting together and enjoying each other’s company. Just the mere suggestion of it is laughable. Police were of course on standby if any trouble were to happen, but the last thing anyone wanted was trouble. Everyone had purchased their ticket to enjoy the day, not just to watch football.
After enjoying a couple of beers (€4 for small, €7 for large) we headed to the stadium. I was stopped halfway through by a policeman asking for our tickets, he wanted to see if we were in the Lyon or PSG end. Having no idea where we were going, I joked with the policeman saying ‘we don’t know what fans we are, were from the UK’. The policeman then allowed himself to smile at the joke and said we were PSG fans and we headed straight in.
Stade De France is a beautiful stadium, you could sit anywhere in the stadium and be able to watch the game perfectly. The festival theme continued its way inside the stadium, where if it were not for the posters outside the stadium you would not know a football match was going to be played. Two DJ’s were battling against each other, one was a PSG fan and the other was a Lyon fan. The two DJ’s played music to see who could create the loudest noise inside the stadium, it ended as a draw.
With kick-off time approaching, the stadium filled up rather quickly. The stadium had provided each fan with a flag of the team you were supporting and a pair of clappers (inflatable tubes in which you hit to create a ‘clapping’ sound). Prior to kick-off we were asked to wave the flags in order to create an atmosphere. The result looked brilliant on the screen opposite us and got everyone inside the ground ready for what could be, a brilliant match. What we got didn’t replicate the buzz we delivered.
Lyon had previously beaten PSG on the Sunday before the final. The result doesn’t falter PSG’s title chances, PSG is currently leading the table by seven points with a game in hand. The league match could have been seen as the warm-up to the final, was more of a warm down for the PSG team. Due to the injury on PSG’s talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I was very interested to see what Edison Cavani could do as the focal point of attack and within three minutes in he answered my questions. Brazilian full back Maxwell passed it to Ezequiel Lavezzi, who sent the ball back to him with a brilliant back heel. Maxwell then adventured into the area before chipping the ball over the Lyon keeper Anthony Lopez, giving Cavani the simplest of finishes by tapping it into an empty net.
The stadium erupted with the cries of ‘goal, goal, goal, goal’, the early lead felt as if it was already game over. In the 31st minute, Lucas Moura brilliantly took down a Thiago Silva pass in the area where he was then brought down by the helpless Lyon keeper. The foul looked outside the box, but PSG was given a penalty by the referee. A yellow card was given to the keeper, and he was then given the task of saving Cavani’s penalty. Lopez dived the correct way but wasn’t able to get near the brilliant penalty.
When it was whistled for half time, we left our seats and headed to get something to drink. I stood back and watched the fans reactions to the half, it felt as if what had happened was normal and that they were going through the motions to a guaranteed victory. People were on their phones, smoking by the sides of the arena, and acting as if they didn’t just watch the first half to a final, but the first half to a game they already knew the ending to.
The second half went underway with both sets of fans singing, creating a brilliant atmosphere for a dull game of football. In the 55th minute, Lyon struck back with a brilliant shot outside the area by French international, Alexandre Lacazette. Silence hit the PSG fans, where the party atmosphere turned into frustration. In truth, PSG didn’t need to worry after the goal went in, as they were still very much in control of the match.
After Lyon scored I expected a nervy end to the game with Lyon pressuring PSG to make a mistake which would lead to an equalizer. What occurred was the very opposite, it seemed as if Lyon didn’t want to concede another goal and they continued to sit back as they had all game. That strategy was never going to cause PSG any serious problems. I have always considered Lyon a big team in France, they currently are in fifth and 25 points behind the leaders PSG. What I didn’t consider is how far teams have fallen and the current quality of French football.
In the past four seasons, four different teams have won Ligue 1: Olympique de Marseille (2010), Lille OSC (2011), Montpellier HSC (2012), Paris Saint-Germain (2013). Their current positions are as followed:
Olympique de Marseille – 6
Lille OSC – 3
Montpellier HSC – 14
Paris Saint-Germain – 1
Two seasons ago, Montpellier had won Ligue 1; they now lie in 14th and six points above the relegation zone. It shows the unpredictably of the league which is a great thing in football, but also the quality of it.
When the final whistle was blown, after a lackluster final match. I stood up and applauded the newly crowned French League Cup champions. Although the match wasn’t as competitive as I hoped it would be. Seeing the passion of the fans at full time and how the players celebrated. It was a memory which will last in my mind for a very long time.