Paris (AFP) – There may never have been a greater mismatch in a Cup final than Tuesday’s French Cup showpiece which will see the mighty Paris Saint-Germain take on the minnows of Les Herbiers.
It would take a shock of seismic proportions for Qatar-backed PSG, even without the still injured Neymar, to slip up against a team of modest players struggling to stay in France’s partly amateur third division.
PSG are fresh from winning the Ligue 1 title and are hoping to secure a clean sweep of the domestic trophies when they run out at the Stade de France for a game that will be attended by President Emmanuel Macron.
Revenue of almost 500 million euros ($596m) last year makes them the seventh-richest club in the world according to Deloitte’s latest Football Money League.
That helped them splash out a world-record 222 million euros on Neymar last year and commit to spending 180 million euros to buy Kylian Mbappe from Monaco.
With average gates of around 1,300, Les Herbiers’ annual budget is around two million euros and prevents them from offering more than 3,000 euros a month to their players.
The figures suggest PSG will easily win the French Cup for the fourth year running, and record 12th time overall, but Les Herbiers are not worrying about that.
“That is not how we should look at this match,” insisted their coach Stephane Masala as he spoke to the press on Monday at the Stade de France.
“I am a young coach and I am here to learn. I hope the players are there to learn and I hope PSG’s great players will give us a lesson. We won’t be an embarrassment, even if we get hammered.”
– Not afraid –
Les Herbiers come from a small town in western France, a short drive south of Nantes in the Vendee region, one of France’s biggest tourist destinations but not a footballing hotspot.
And yet around 15,000 fans — around the same as the population of the town — will head to the capital for the game.
Masala, 41, is confident it will be a “spectacular” occasion, and his players should not be totally star-struck, with many coming through the youth ranks at top French sides.
“Given their performances in Ligue 1 and the way they have run away with the league, you might think we would be afraid. But we will be going out to enjoy ourselves,” insisted Rodrigue Bongongui, who played for the same youth club in the Paris suburbs as Mbappe.
“We know there is a huge gulf in class, but we will just enjoy it and maybe learn something as well.”
Les Herbiers are not the first side from down the divisions to reach the final — third-tier Quevilly lost 1-0 to Lyon as recently as 2012, while fourth-division Calais lost to Nantes in 2000.
Remarkably, they have not had to face a single Ligue 1 club to get here, although second-tier Auxerre and Lens were seen off before a 2-0 win against third-division Chambly in the semi-finals.
The club have constructed a replica Eiffel Tower at their stadium ahead of the final, while the team departed to prepare for the game at the French national team’s Clairefontaine base.
PSG, meanwhile, have been focusing on this occasion, and the chance to win another piece of silverware, since wrapping up the league title last month.
They have won their last 41 domestic cup ties and are eager to extend that run to complete the treble before coach Unai Emery leaves at the season’s end.
“We must win this title for him, to finish this season and this cycle well. He has brought many positive things to the club,” said captain Thiago Silva of Emery.
“People think it will be an easy match, but life is not like that and football is not like that.”
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