Thursday, October 01, 2015

France September 2015

Seven games in France including a visit to the new Bordeaux stadium, Gazelec Ajaccio and a Champions League game in Lyon.

Toulouse too loose.

20th September  Girondins de Bordeaux 1 Toulouse 1  Ligue 1  20,650 (c. 300 away)

I took an early morning flight from a busy Gatwick to reach a sunny Bordeaux by 9.30am.

Bus and tram got me to the Bastide area where the local ladies were jogging past in the Bordelaise race on this Sunday morning.
In fact the city felt like the jogging capital of France with so many taking exercise.

Meanwhile as to the football.

Bordeaux now play in the Nouveau Stade, easily reachable from the centre by tram, and it represents a vision in white.
The exterior is reminiscent of the stadium in Brasilia except the design is rectangular and on a smaller scale.

Inside is a spacious two tier setup with the lively home ultras, the Virage Sud, behind one goal and the visiting fans at the opposite end.
We had to wait for the Toulouse ultras to arrive but they made it just in time to see their team take the lead when Moroccan Adrien Regattin drove in a fine right foot shot on 23 minutes.

Toulouse paraded a veritable United Nations of nationalities including six Africans and just one French player in their starting eleven.
While Bordeaux had Uruguayan Diego Rolan and Swede Isaac Thelin in attack and they would both miss chances to the frustration of the home crowd.

However they were certainly not the only guilty parties as we watched Malian Tongo Doumbia make great runs to combine with Martin Braithwaite only for him to be thwarted by the home goalie.
Those missed Toulouse opportunities would come back to bite the visitors whose cause was not helped by the dismissal of Oscar Trejo in the second period.

Eventually, after some open play, Bordeaux broke away and sub. Enzo Crivelli forced home the equaliser past an errant Goicoechea (another Uruguayan) in the away goal.

Certainly the result was tough on Doumbia and co. but probably about right on the overall play.

The stadium itself looks a nice addition to those being used at Euro 2016 and visiting fans can also look forward to being in a pleasant riverside city.

The next day I journeyed to Rennes for a stopover. Where the inclement weather was balanced by a bistro menu meal combined with vin blanc.

Bourg serves up victory.

22nd September  Stade Laval 1 Bourg-en-Bresse 3  Ligue 2   5,240

Its a fairly short journey from Rennes to Laval and near to the station is the Stade Francis le Basser.
The stadium is two sided with remnants of the old terrace still extant at both ends.

On a chilly night, not helped by a brisk wind, I warmed up (for a while) in the socios area with a couple of glasses of vin rouge.

Maybe the Laval players had indulged a bit as well (I jest) since they were second best in this match between 6th and 4th in the second division.

The visitors scored three well taken goals starting in the 5th minute when Moulaye Ba shot home from a break.
His strike partner Pape Sane added a second just before half-time following a defensive error.
And substitute Lakdar Boussaha sealed the points with a classy chip with seven minutes remaining.

Laval did get one back, again it was a good finish - from a near post cross, but it was merely a consolation goal.
Overall Bourg looked more fluent and for most of the game the home crowd were left to groan at the home teams’ missteps.

A decent crowd turned out though a number left early to warm up.

Bourg, who seem to have come from nowhere, are currently the surprise team in this league and it will be interesting to see whether they maintain this excellent start to the campaign.

The next day I made a reasonably early start to get the TGV to Paris and then the metro and tram to Orly for my trip across to Corsica.

Rennes break Gazelec hearts in Casanova stadium.

23rd September Gazelec Ajaccio 1 Rennes 1  Ligue 1  3,576 (c. 12 away)

And so to Ajaccio and the Napoleon Bonaparte airport and then later on the Ange Casanova stadium.

These names evoked an imaginary meeting and conversation between Napoleon and the more famous Casanova :

Casanova : So how is Josephine ?

Napoleon :  She is fine but I’m concentrating on conquering Europe at the moment.
How is Adelina, Celestine, Delphine, Gabrielle, Hortense, Idolette, Julienne, Modeste, Olive, Rosalie, Sidonie, Valentine, Victorine, Virginie, Kylie and Miley ?

Casanova : only another 99,873 to go and I will have conquered the ladies of Europe.
Napoleon ; Let me know if you need any help.

Would they talk about football ?
Probably not.

Anyway I should...  Gazelec are making their debut in the French top level and they had reasonable support in their improved stadium (semi-temporary seats down one side) which has some character despite being 3 sided and mostly open.

This being Corsica the mountains are never far away.

It was a game that began with the visitors, in a lofty second position, exploiting space in the home defence and going close to scoring.
But the Corsicans survived and out of the blue went ahead when a free kick from Mohamed Larbi curled into the far corner for an unlikely lead - just on half-time.

The second period was even although you felt Rennes had more strength up front.

The time wore on and as we approached the ninety minutes the crowd realised this could be their first win in Ligue 1.

Then the blow fell and Ivorian Giovanni Sio was on hand to equalise from close range.
It was a hard lesson for Gazelec but, at least for a day, they moved off the bottom of the table and also doubled their points total.

I was able to walk back to my hotel, stopping for a beer and a burger along the way before watching the French rugby team on TV.

The next day I flew back to Orly before crossing to Montparnasse for the TGV to Poitiers where I stayed the night.
(I resisted the option to stay in Paris and go to a ‘Nightwish’ concert)

Poitiers proved a pleasant stopover, particularly in the Bistro Bouchard where there is a conducive atmosphere enhanced by the ‘gourmand menu’ and where on this Thursday evening I chatted to a West Ham fan and his wife (they endorsed Bilic rather than Big Stan)

I should Kou Kou.

25th Niort 1 Clermont 1  Ligue 2  3,268 (c. 20 away)

Only a short journey from Poitiers to Niort for this second level game between the home side and Clermont, then in 6th.

The stadium is walkable from the centre and it is two sided apart some semi-temporary seating, most of which was unused.

One point of interest was seeing the first active female coach in professional (men’s) football - Corinne Diacre of Clermont.
She exhibited a calm presence on the touchline.

Although calm was not the word to describe the reckless tackle by her defender Cyriac Rivieyran later in the game that got him a deserved red card.

That was a significant moment in a game that generally lacked them.

Apart from the goals.

Which were excellent - firstly Senegalese striker Diedhiou volleyed home a right wing cross to give the visitors the lead on 70 minutes.
Then, with two minutes left, Djiman Koukou drove home a loose ball from 25 yards to level the match.

In the end a draw was probably about right and though the late goals provided welcome memories overall the teams tended to cancel each out.

Back in central square I chilled out with a couple of Grimbergens.

And the next day I ventured into the world of Bla Bla Car and - it worked well.
A pre-arranged meeting at Niort station and a shared ride, at a very low cost, took me to Nantes.

Parisian stars strut their stuff.

26th September  Nantes 1 Paris St Germain 4  Ligue 1  31,410 (c. 1,000 away)

The Stade de la Beaujoire is nicely reachable by tram (two options) from the centre passing the impressive chateau.

Naturally this was a big game with the stars from the capital arriving.
And the ultras put on a good show with plenty of vocal backing for ‘The Canaries’.

They got some reward in the first half with Nantes troubling the PSG defence, particularly down the right.
That was where the cross came from that tall striker Bammou headed in after just 11 minutes.
He had another chance later but his header hit the post.

But as the half progressed PSG got more into the match and although the period ended 1-0
it looked likely the team with the money would soon score.

And so it was, right after the interval, from close in by Ibrahimovic following a blocked effort.
That turned the tide towards PSG and more goals were added - a Cavani near post header, a neat Di Maria lob and finally a conversion from a corner by Serge Aurier.

With players such as Ibrahimovic, Di Maria (who overall had a mixed match), league top scorer Cavani (a sub.) and the strong, guiding presence of Thiago Silva in defence the Parisians were certainly a cut above the home side.
In fact they will probably be well ahead of all the other French teams as well.
Their main tests are likely to come in the Champions League.

Afterwards I took the tram back to centre and watched the England v Wales rugby inside a bar where I thought the locals cheered a bit too loud for Wales.

Neither forward nor back.

27th September  Guingamp 3 Monaco 3  Ligue 1  13,987 (c. 70 away)

For me it was back to the trains, via Rennes, to the sleepy town of Guingamp.

Where all the excitement, on this Sunday, was at the local stadium.

EAG get good support considering the size of the town and the ultras produced a fine piece of choreo (the players as superheroes)
The local backing probably plays a part in their relative success, that and the threats they often pose from set plays.

Against a Monaco team that presumably has aspirations above mid-table EAG managed to equalise three times including one in the final minute.

The goals began with a through ball to Bernardo Silva that set him up to shoot across Lossl for the opener.
Then Guingamp equalised via a Sloan Privat header from a corner.

The game ebbed and flowed before the first half ended with Andrea Raggi having a straightforward finish when in space on the left.

And so the match went back towards EAG with Nicolas Benezet getting the first of his double on 65 minutes.

Next we saw a neat near post flick from Moroccan Nabil Dirar to make the score 3-2 to the visitors.
And just when it seemed Monaco would get the three points up stepped Benezet again to surprise Subasic with a shot from a narrow angle for the third leveller in the final minute.

So plenty of entertainment and a fair outcome I think.

EAG look good for mid-table while Monaco, although strong in midfield, will have to improve - for example in defence where the ageing Ricardo Carvalho was vulnerable and in attack where El Shaarawy needs to be more effective.

That was highlight for Sunday in Guingamp where the only other excitement for many (including your correspondent) was queuing for a kebab after the game.

From a quiet Guingamp, using the Grand VItesse, to a busy Lyon.

Spain beats France, as usual.

29th September  Olympique Lyon 0 Valencia 1  Champions League  33,534 (c. 120 away)

In January Lyon will move out of the Stade Gerland so presumably there will not be many more such Champions League nights.
The stadium is somewhat quirky but certainly historic and atmospheric.

Fans in the Virage Nord produced plenty of support but their heroes failed to take their best chances and lost to a Spanish team in a similar league position (8th) to themselves.
The loss maintained a pattern - Valencia had previously only been defeated  three times in 22 games against French opponents.

Maybe if coveted striker Alexandre Lacazette had been on the end of the chances that came at the end of the first half the outcome might have been different.
But Morel and Ferri both fluffed the opportunities.

Prior to that another transfer target, Sofiane Feghouli, had cracked in a right footer on 42 minutes after Valencia had quickly moved forward from a sharply taken free kick.
His fellow North African Aymen Abdennour had earlier gone close with headers from set plays.

While Valbuena produced a fine free kick on 28 minutes that tested Domenech in the visitors

The one nil lead looked safe for most of the second half although Lacazette did get in an effort that was blocked.
Then near the end Domenech had to be at his best to push over a shot from Tolisso that ultimately confirmed the points would go back to Spain.

Don’t expect either of these teams to go too far in the competition.

I travelled back to my hotel via the efficient metro and had time for a beer in the hotel de ville square.

The next day the metro was not so efficient for my trip to the airport.
To remind me of London the workers were on strike.

But the express tram was functioning and that got me to Saint Exupery for the return to London (albeit for a price)

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