French Cup Magic as team goes from liquidation to the Quarter-Finals

After being on the brink of liquidation, French fourth division side have knocked out two Ligue 1 sides to make the Quarter-Finals of the French Cup

It is often cited that the English FA Cup is the greatest club knock-out competition in world football, there’s no doubt that it does have its degree of magic, but it’s the French version that is the true “Coupe de Magique”.

On Tuesday evening, fourth division side AS Cannes held former Ligue 1 champions Montpellier all the way through 119 minutes, the ball then fell perfectly for Belkacem Zobiri, and without hesitation he fired his shot past Lionel Pionnier into the far corner.

The stands erupted, only six months ago this was unthinkable. Cannes were moments away from being liquidated, saved at the very last moment, now they had reached the last eight of the Coupe de France.

AS Cannes now follow in the footsteps of Calais, US Quevilly and Chambery, making their own fairy-tale story. Every year the biggest names in Hollywood descend to the south of France for the famed Cannes Film Festival, but even the most eccentric of movie producers would have struggled to write this tale.

AS Cannes is a name steeped in French football history already, with the legendary Real Madrid and Juventus star, Zinedine Zidane, coming through the ASC ranks as a teenager before moving to Girondins de Bordeaux. They can also name Patrick Vieira and Gael Clichy among the elite list of players that have started their career for Les Dragons Rouge.

For a club with so much history and prestige, it seemed impossible that they would slip into the dangerous position they found themselves in last August. French’s fourth tier couldn’t be further from the glamour of England’s League Two, with four groups of 18 teams competing for just one promotion place each season, it is a ridiculously hard division to escape from.

They also have to compete with many of Ligue 1’s reserve sides, comprising of players gaining some match-fitness before heading back to the first-team or young special talents honing their skills.

Due to the tight restrictions in France each team’s income is closely monitored by the DNCG, and if sides are unable to operate within their means they are then relegated down a step.

This happened to Cannes in 2011 when they were relegated from the third division, Championnat National, to CFA. This meant they had to sell or release a lot of players to survive, further depleting their resources and making it harder to keep up with the other teams. At times it can have an even bigger effect on a club, rather than help them find their financial footing.

It had all been too much for the owners of AS Cannes to deal with and the club was moments away from liquidation in August of 2013. It was unthinkable that a team with this level of history could just disappear. Luckily a deal was done last minute that saved the club, they are under tight government restrictions with regards to wages and expenditure, but they survived, and that’s when the dream began.

First up they claimed the scalp of Ligue 1’s Saint-Etienne. After going behind to a Brandao goal, they fought back and took the game to penalties. 3-2 down in the shoot-out, Fabien Lemoine had the chance to knock the fourth division out.

He misses, then so did Turkish striker Mevlut Erding, Cannes held their nerve, tucked away their spot-kicks and advances to the Last 32. Then they knocked out fellow CFA side Plabennec when goal hero Zobiri scored the only goal to put Cannes into the last 16.

The rules of the French cup make it as difficult as possible for the higher ranked sides. If there are two divisions separating the teams, the lowest ranked team plays at home. There are also no replays and the ties must be decided on the night. It makes for a compelling competition and takes some of Ligue 1’s finest to small and uncompromising grounds. All part of the cup magic.

Not one to bask in the glory of an amazing result, AS Cannes coach Jean-Marc Pilorget has made it clear his side are not fully satisfied yet.

"This is a new opportunity for us to face one of the best teams in Ligue 1. This brings some light to the club. Now we will have to recover because on Saturday we have a difficult match against Mont-de-Marsan in the Championship. The players are not satisfied and we will wait for the draw and hope that we can again play at home."

Now Montpellier have become the latest team to fall on AS Cannes sword, the Dragons are breathing fire down on their opponents and has helped guide them to the Quarter-Finals.

22 years have passed since Cannes reached this level of the competition. If any Hollywood directors are watching, this could be the story behind your latest blockbuster. Now it’s up to the players to provide the fairy-tale ending. The final stage being the Stade de France in June.

images: © wonker, © tab59, © Philippe Agnifili

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