Thursday, May 19, 2022

Coupe de France: Nantes end 21-year trophy wait as Nice’s 25-year drought goes on

FC Nantes are this season’s Coupe de France champions after a 1-0 win over OGC Nice at Stade de France on Saturday secured Les Canaris’ first silverware in 21 years. Ludovic Blas scored a penalty in the second half for the winner.

Christophe Galtier’s Aiglons were slight favorites given their superior standing in Ligue 1 and their boss’ Championnat success with Lille OSC last campaign, but Antoine Kombouare’s men were the more motivated squad and secured a return to European competition after 18 years away with a spot in the 2022-23 Europa League.

As a spectacle, it was not the best domestic cup final with clear chances hard to come by, but that will not matter to Nantes and their fans who have come from the playoffs to avoid relegation to a trophy win and continental soccer in the space of 12 months.

Nice should still join them but are slipping out of contention at the worst possible moment and now need to rediscover some scoring form for the remaining three matches in Ligue 1 or Galtier’s solid first term in charge at Allianz Riviera will feel somewhat underwhelming.

The Frenchman left Lille after their unexpected Ligue 1 triumph last season and was vindicated in his decision to move on as Les Dogues’ attempt at a title defense has been horrific with a bottom-half-of-the-table finish possible.

However, those expecting Galtier to pick up with Nice where he left off with LOSC need to readjust their expectations as this loss to Nantes illustrated the issues that the 55-year-old still needs to get to grips with if Nice are to become one of France’s secondary powers behind Paris Saint-Germain.

It is foolish for any club to target knocking the capital club off their domestic perch, even one as well-funded as Le Gym’s INEOS-backed project, but the likes of AS Monaco and Lille have shown in recent years that Ligue 1 can still be won by someone other than Les Parisiens.

Being the best of the rest is something within Nice’s reach and Galtier has seemingly mastered it in recent years but will need greater consistency from his players moving forward and a sharper attack to avoid the sort of fading form that we have seen of late.

Earlier this year, Les Aiglons were looking good for UEFA Champions League qualification before a difficult run of three wins from nine including a four-game winless streak derailed their bid and now they are fighting to even secure a Europa League berth.

Competition is fierce between the likes of AS Monaco, Olympique de Marseille, Stade Rennais and RC Strasbourg Alsace with Olympique Lyonnais and RC Lens lurking just behind to pounce with three games remaining which will likely see the race go down to the final day.

None of Nice’s struggles take away from what was a massive effort and achievement by Kombouare and his players who have gone from relegation battlers to European hopefuls in Ligue 1 before securing that European return through the Coupe de France.

Some were surprised when PSG’s Mauricio Pochettino was left off the recent French Coach of the Year award shortlist with the likes of Galtier, Kombouare and Strasbourg’s Julien Stephan all preferred and this non-Parisien cup final is part of the reason for that.

Both clubs reaching the final was a big achievement with Nice eliminating PSG at Parc des Princes on penalties earlier this year and it is also a refreshing reminder that all the money pumped into the capital club no longer even guarantees utter domestic dominance. 

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