Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughConfusion and consternation in French football - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Confusion and consternation in French football - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Confusion and consternation in French football

The annual shameful state of affairs of French football in Europe is upon us and even though the Champions’ League does look promising on paper, the reality isn’t quite so. The Europa League results just speak for themselves.

Prior to the last set of games in Europe’s premier club competition, you could be forgiven for predicting Lille to go through quite comfortably as they did the hard work in Moscow (2-0 win, it’s becoming increasingly easy to win there these days) and only needed to beat Trabzonspor (who got in the competition via the back door thanks to Fenerbahce’s gambling problems) at home to progress while Lyon and Marseille seemingly had a mountain to climb…

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? The big boys finally progressed under interesting circumstances while little old Lille could do no better than a stalemate against the Turks.

Marseille were playing their all-important game at Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion needing a win to ensure qualification. Many scenarios were possible in Group F if Olympiakos were to beat an already qualified Arsenal side at home (who predictably played a B team in Piraeus). Marseille were completely outplayed in the first half by a Dortmund side who needed to win by 4 clear goals and an Arsenal win in Greece to progress. Up until first half stoppage time, things were headed that way.

Jakub Blaszczykowski and Mats Hummels from the spot put Dortmund 2 goals up after half an hour and Marseille didn’t look like replying until a Morgan Amalfitano cross was headed in by Loïc Rémy. Borussia Dortmund hence lost their momentum and the second half was more or less a non-event. Marseille rather undeservedly snatched victory thanks to another headed goal by André Ayew from a corner and a late Mathieu Valbuna wonder-strike.

Still Marseille had their destiny in their own hands; a win was enough to qualify them for the knock-out stage. Lyon had a much bigger ask: they had to win at Dinamo Zagreb’s ground by quite a margin and hope for a comprehensive Ajax defeat at home to Real Madrid. The French miracle did happen but under extremely controversial circumstances. The Dutch side scored two perfectly legitimate goals ruled out for offside in a 3-0 defeat while in Croatia the correlation between a nervy first half where both sides were evenly matched and a second half where Lyon scored 3 goals in 5 minutes was inexistent.

Playing devil’s advocate? Watching the game makes for dubious analysis. The first half was, as previously said, a contest. The home side were winning challenges overenthusiastically in midfield (so much that they got a man sent off) and even opened the scoring. Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had to be at his very best to keep his side in the game before Gomis quite fortunately equalised on the stroke of half-time. In the second half the Croats suddenly started doing very odd tactical moves. The defence for one was very high up the pitch (30 metres in front of goal) which enabled Lyon players to get behind the defensive line at ease and the midfield was suddenly nowhere to be seen which made the flow of the game suddenly embarrassingly one-sided. Other minor factors may convince the odd spectator that Lyon had struck an agreement on winning this game by a speculative margin. Did Lyon buy the game? It’s not a ridiculous suggestion to make by any means. APOEL Nicosia are waiting in the knock-out stage.

Onto the Europa League. Before the final day, Rennes were already mathematically eliminated so didn’t go to Madrid to face Atletico with a beaming smile on their faces. The 1-3 defeat was no surprise to anyone. The blame must be pointed at the squad in the previous games. Rennes are a strong outfit with a solid young goalkeeper, man-mountain defenders (although that’s not enough more often than not) and quality creative players. The table makes for painful reading for one of the better sides of Ligue 1’s nearly men. Their squad is not thin by any means and the fact that players, managers and pretty much everyone associated with a French football club complains about playing games every 3 days (read twice a week) makes you wonder why France are competing in Europe in the first place. An interesting debate on French radio RMC this week united French pundits in foreign leagues such as Spain, Italy or England and the question of the importance of European football in a team’s season was discussed. The French have a very negative and narrow-minded stance of prioritising the league and not caring about Europe (except when big money is at stake so the Champions’ League). Abroad, things are quite different: you shouldn’t think about making it as a professional footballer if you can’t play twice a week. Simple as that. The Spanish expert talked about the duty Atletico Madrid had towards its fans after the 0-4 domestic defeat at Espanyol the previous weekend. This column has questioned the sheer utility of Montpellier being in Europe next season so good is their current campaign but experienced clubs like Rennes are hardly giving the good impression. Sochaux were high-flying last season under miracle-worker Francis Gillot (who has since left for Bordeaux and is doing alright after a rocky start) but got knocked out at the first hurdle by Metalist Kharkiv (who have actually had a fine group stage campaign: 4 wins and 2 draws and group winners) and are currently 14th in the league at this moment in time, a meagre 3 points clear of relegation. Additional European games certainly wouldn’t have helped.

Does Europa League qualification automatically bring mid-table mediocrity/relegation scrap the following season to French clubs? If so, I’ll take back what I said; Montpellier can enter the Europa League. It’s not as if we’re doing great in this competition anyway.

PSG also got knocked out but putting them under the same category as the aforementioned teams would be a naïve mistake. They have just spent loads of cash and are going to win trophies left, right and centre. Well, that’s not entirely true. The media in France and in Europe are quite surprised to see a very powerful club getting knocked out by Austrian minnows, Red Bull Salzburg. PSG didn’t lose qualification on the last day (or in any home game for that matter: they won all 3 games quite comprehensively) but lost it at Mozart’s hometown. The 3-1 win back in September at the Parc des Princes suggested that there was somewhat a gap in class between these two sides but at the Red Bull Arena the home side won 2-0 (the second goal being scored in second half injury-time which eventually decided the group’s outcome). No excuse has been issued from QSI FC yet however. The age-old phrase of “let’s focus on the league” better not be uttered these days, PSG were official favourites to win the competition and many personalities linked to the club (among them recently retired Claude Makélélé) admitted that it was one of the club’s targets for the season.

Lille and PSG are now out of any European competition. Guess who’s playing who this Sunday evening? Might as well focus on national duties before taking Europe by storm…

Philip Bargiel