Coupe de la Ligue final BKT: Guingamp, Strasbourg covet rare piece of silverware

EA Guingamp will look to win its first Coupe de la Ligue title when it clashes with RC Strasbourg in Saturday's final at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

EA Guingamp will take on RC Strasbourg in the Coupe de la Ligue BKT 2019 final at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Saturday.   -  Twitter @CoupeLigueBKT

The feeling in France in the build-up to the Coupe de la Ligue BKT final isn't one of disappointment as Paris Saint-Germain misses out on its first domestic cup final of the season.

With PSG operating on a different level, financially and in terms of the quality of players, the other clubs are not often fancied to contest for silverware. The absence of PSG and the clubs that trail it in French football's pecking order - Lyon, Lille, Marseille, Monaco - has thrust the spotlight on two relative lightweights – EA Guingamp and RC Strasbourg – which, make no mistake, deserve to be in the final here on Saturday.

 

The smaller, less-fancied clubs always seem to have something more to offer when they play the cup competitions as opposed to the league matches. No two clubs emphasise this more than Guingamp and Strasbourg, which have overcome many a favourite for the competition en route to the final. Guingamp beat PSG, the defending champion and winner of the last five league cups in a row, in the quarterfinal. Marcus Thuram, 1998 World Cup winner Lilian Thuram's son, scored a 93rd-minute penalty to send his club to the last-four.

Strasbourg beat Lyon in the quarterfinals too, edging it 2-1. Monaco and Lille also fell to Guingamp and Strasbourg at different stages of the competition.

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Strasbourg was in the fourth tier of French football only six seasons ago (2012-13), but it earned back-to-back promotions in the third and second divisions in 2016 and 2017 respectively to return to the top tier ahead of last season (2017-18). The side is currently 10th in Ligue 1 and, though it is winless in five matches, is not burdened by any element before the final. Guingamp, on the other hand, is fighting to avoid relegation from Ligue 1.

Addressing the media on the eve of the final, Strasbourg right-back Kenny Lala said, "We are not the favourite, everything is possible. Ligue 1's position will not mean anything tomorrow; Guingamp could beat Strasbourg and vice versa. We hope it will be a good game.

"Our fans in Strasbourg tell us, 'Bring the cup back, bring the cup back' and so, we have the pressure tomorrow. This is a situation we couldn't have imagined five years ago. Winning the Cup wasn't an objective at the start of the season, but we progressed in the competition winning match after match, and now it has suddenly become an objective," he said.

Kenny Lala

Strasbourg's Kenny Lala addresses the media on Friday.   -  Twitter @CoupeLigueBKT



Responding to a question on the threat posed by Thuram, Lala said, "Marcus Thuram is one of the best forwards in the league, with his pace and movement. We have to defend well to stop him."

On Strasbourg's poor form leading up to the final, manager Thierry Laurey said, "We tried to focus as hard as we could in the last three games, but it is human to think about a big occasion as the final."

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Laurey refused to divulge any information about attacker Jonas Martin's availability (who has a calf injury), and who could potentially start on Saturday. 

Jocelyn Gourvennec, Laurey's opposite number, said Guingamp is motivated to win the final despite the its relegation battle. "It won't be an easy game because we have beaten top teams like PSG on our way to the final. The motivation is there to win tomorrow," he said.



Lille's home ground, Stade Pierre-Mauroy, a multi-purpose stadium with a retractable roof, will host Saturday's final, for which the tickets have been sold out. LFP made the decision in 2017 to host the league cup finals at different venues following the construction of new stadia in the country before Euro 2016, while the Stade de France in Paris will host the final in the fourth year of the cycle.

One of the players of the two Coupe de la Ligue finalists, Youri Djorkaeff (a former Strasbourg player) and Didier Drogba (a former Guingamp player) will provide the honorary kick-off.

(The writer is in France at the invitation of LFP)

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