Thursday, April 18, 2013

France April 2013

Three top level encounters in France including games involving Paris St Germain and Olympique Marseille.

12th April  Valenciennes 0 St Etienne 0    Ligue 1  16,004  (500 away)

The Stade du Hainaut is built close to the old Nungesser ground and conveniently close to my lodgings at the Ibis hotel.

The ground is stylistically modern with an exterior that is impressive from ground level and is probably even more so from the air.
Inside it has two tiers resplendent in bright red.

St Etienne, challenging for a European place, brought a lively group of fans and they did a good job of competing with the home fans..

Sadly the game was a slow burn without ignition.
Defences were on top with both teams limited in their attacking forays.

The Greens had more possession but failed to create many chances for lone Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang.
He had one significant opening from a defensive error but lacked sufficient composure and shot wide.

Up front for Valenciennes the nineteen year old Nguette showed potential although he did, rather embarrassingly, fluff a good headed chance.
But he’s tall and quick and surely as a youngster already playing up front at the French top level is one for the future.

Ultimately despite some late home pressure the game ended goalless.

13th April  Troyes 0 Paris St Germain 1   18,648 (400 away)

A big, sellout, game in the historic and picturesque capital of the Champagne region.
And the locals came out to watch as the PSG ultras walked, flares lit, from the centre of town to the Stade De L’Aube - I joined them along part of the route.

Their team was missing top scorer Ibrahimovic through suspension but did include David Beckham as a substitute.
Replacement striker Gameiro should have scored in the third minute when through on goal but his shot was blocked by goalie Thuram.
It would not be one of Gameiro’s best games culminating in his being replaced after 64 minutes.

After a fairly even first half with rock bottom ESTAC doing OK the match was decided when a long right wing cross reached Matuidi who shot home left footed.
Subsequently PSG did enough to control the game although a good strike from Tunisian Camus near the end did test Sirigu in the visitors goal.

And Mr Beckham did come on (accompanied by a friendly reception) for the last fifteen minutes to play his part in midfield.
There is no doubt he can still deliver a cross and a free kick and, certainly from a distance, he belies his nearly 38 years.

So PSG marched on towards the title and Troyes back to Ligue 2.

I strolled back past the half-timbered houses to the centre (this time without the PSG ultras) and enjoyed some quality evening nourishment including steak, profiteroles and wine.

14th March  Lille 0 Olympique Marseille 0   47,828 (3,000 away)

Via Paris to Lille where on this Sunday it is finally warming up.

My pre-game activity was to visit the impressive Palais des Beaux Arts for some culture of a different kind.

And so on to the Grand Stade which is easily reached using the efficient driverless metro system.

Grand it is - in the modern style with two main tiers and a middle section of ‘boxes’.
Most areas were full, except for parts of the central section.

OM brought around 3000 fans situated in a corner wedge.
The home ultras behind one goal provided noisy support and everyone waved their flags.

But we saw no goals.

At least Lille did push men forward with Kalou and Payet prominent.
However the ex-Chelsea striker did miss a gilt-edged headed chance from close-in and that set the pattern for a series of great saves by the OM goalie Steve Mandanda.

Englishman Joey Barton appeared as a second half sub. for the visitors but didn’t make much impact.
And in the end both teams seemed reasonably content with the draw.

I was less happy having seen three top games and only one goal.

A characteristic of French football perhaps but at least I enjoyed some first class food and my time in the very impressive city of Troyes.

Back on the Eurostar, which was on time as were all the French trains taken on this trip.

More pictures at

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