EA Guingamp couldn't replicate the success it had in the penalty shootout in three of the four previous rounds en route to the final and went down 4-1 on penalties - after a goalless 120 minutes - in the Coupe de la Ligue final BKT against RC Strasbourg at Stade Pierre-Mauroy Stadium here in Lille.
Stefan Mitrovic, the Strasbourg captain and central defender, won the toss and decided his team will take the first penalty. Sanjin Prcic, Adrien Thomasson, Dimitri Lienard, and Lionel Carole converted each of their penalties while Didot was the only one of the Guingamp penalty takers to convert his.
At 3-1 down, Ronny Rodelin had to convert his penalty to keep Guingamp alive. He chose to slot the ball to goalkeeper Bingourou Kamara's left, but didn't quite get his effort in the corner and Kamara made an acrobatic save to deny him. Carole, the left-back, went hard and low with his penalty to the left of Marc-Aurele Caillard and sealed a third league cup win for Strasbourg.
The final will not have gone to penalties if Alexandre Mendy had taken his chance in the last minute of extra-time. One-on-one against Kamara, his right-footed shot was tame, making life easy for the Strasbourg goalkeeper, who went low and made a regulation save. Maybe that miss played on his mind when he walked up to take Guingamp's first penalty, which he sent flying into the stands behind the goal where Strasbourg's fans had been accommodated.
Guingamp, over the course of 120 minutes, had been much the better team, albeit Strasbourg had quality chances of its own. Marcus Thuram was a massive goal threat throughout. Mendy, Blas and Ibrahima Sissoko thrived on the big stage with Arsene Wenger, former Guingamp forward Didier Drogba and former Strasbourg players Youri Djorkaeff among those in attendance.
Strasbourg and Guingamp cancelled each other out in a very even yet goalless first half. The former began brightly and, in the 10th minute, had the first big chance of the match. Lamine Kone's ambitious effort from outside the box fell kindly at the feet of Lebo Mothiba, who dwelled on the ball for far too long and the Guingamp defence thwarted the attempt.
Six minutes later, at the other end, Thuram carved out a great opportunity with his dribbling ability and quick feet, creating enough space to have a shot. His strike from the right was on target and Kamara made a reflex save to deny him.
Guingamp grew into the match after this chance. Ludovic Blas and Ibrahim Ndong saw more of the ball and helped their team play on the front foot.
Strasbourg had another great chance in the Guingamp box later in the first half. From a Prcic corner, Mitrovic, lurking at the back post, had to get over the ball and keep his header down. He could manage neither and was also adjudged to have fouled in trying to get his header away.
The second half was lacking in quality, with plenty of passes going astray and cynical fouling breaking the rhythm of the match. Both teams did have chances to score, though.
Thuram had an opportunity to head home after the ball, which eventually flew over the leaping 21-year-old, had been flicked towards the front post. In the 75th minute, Mendy got on the end of a cross from the right flank. His first-time effort, on the half volley, flew marginally wide.
Ludovic Ajorque, Strasbourg forward, had two opportunities in the space of five minutes towards the end of the second half and on both occasions, his attempts were blocked.
As fatigue crept in and the two managers - Thierry Laurey and Jocelyn Gourvennec - started making substitutions, the match became a little scrappy. Then, in the last minute of extra-time, out of nowhere, Mendy found himself one-on-one against Kamara, a chance he should have taken, though his job was made difficult by the angle he found himself in before pulling the trigger.
When the penalty shootout came into the picture, Guingamp, having lived the situation three times before, was expected to have the composure required to win the shootout. But this time, it couldn't quite keep its nerve.
(The writer is in France at the invitation of LFP)
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