Preview | Coupe de France provides hope for troubled giant-killers Rouen and desperate Valenciennes as semi-final awaits

Tonight against all odds FC Rouen will host Valenciennes FC in a clash that will ensure at least one team from the lower divisions will be represented in the Coupe de France semi-finals. 

Rouen playing their football in the Championnat National (the third division of French football) have had a troubled season despite exceptional performances on the pitch. Their midtable position hides the fact that this has been a club that should be positioned near the top of the table challenging for promotion to Ligue 2. 

And it’s a position brought about by an off-field decision, as the club have been deducted five points from the DNCG for alleged financial mismanagement. A situation that Rouen will hope to resolve later this week when they discover the outcome of their appeal. 

Club president Charles Maarek has become the focal point of the supporters’ anger, and the last few months have been filled with calls for Maarek to step down from his role, and threats to boycott even the successful Coupe de France run. 

A run that has only become more astounding in this context. The Rouen players have managed to ignore the drama surrounding the club as they have gone on to prove themselves to be giant killers as they beat reigning champions Toulouse FC before defeating AS Monaco in the round of 16. 

‘The Cup is our oxygen’ 

Valenciennes might be the team in the higher division, but the Ligue 2 side are by no means the favourites for this tie. The fact that they are still in the competition in a season that has been characterised by abject misery is simply an illogical situation brought about by the magic of one of the most surprising and entertaining tournaments in European football. 

Midfielder Julien Masson (25) speaking to L’Équipe was blunt about the season so far for the worst team in Ligue 2, “I won’t hide that it’s been a nightmare.” The club have managed only 2 wins across the entire season in the league and look all but mathematically relegated as they sit 15 points away from safety. 

The cup has become a reprieve for a side that no matter what they have attempted to do have remained incapable of finding a way out of their slump. “The Cup is our oxygen,” Masson admitted. 

Valenciennes have not reached this stage by a Rouen-esque journey against the elite sides of French football. They’re aware that the draw has been kind on them, as they’ve only faced one side above them in the standings, a 2-1 victory over Paris FC. 

However, as manager Ahmed Kantari states, “Nobody expects anything from us. But this exceptional competition allows players to excel. We approach it with freshness. This is a unique opportunity to show our true selves.

The end of the road for Rouen or Valenciennes

It feels cruel that one of these sides will exit the tournament tonight, it has been an opportunity for distraction against the bleak stories that have dominated their coverage and has offered the rare chance of hope. Yet for the victor, the continuation of the journey into the unknown brings a wider glimpse of something incredible waiting at the end of a difficult season and proves well and truly that the magic of the cup is alive and well in France. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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