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Sage advice: Lyon should look back ahead of Valenciennes Coupe de France clash

By Paul Myers - RFI
France  Laurent CiprianiAP
APR 2, 2024 LISTEN
© Laurent Cipriani/AP

Lyon boss Pierre Sage urged his players to look back at their catastrophic start to the Ligue 1 season in order to seize their chance for glory when they take on Valenciennes in the semi-finals of the Coupe de France.

Sage's side go into the clash on Tuesday night at the Groupama Stadium in Lyon as favourites against a team propping up Ligue 2.

Lyon appeared to be heading to that division earlier in the 2023/24 season.

Former France international Laurent Blanc was dismissed as coach in September with the team showing one point from the first four games.

His replacement, Fabio Grosso, managed to garner six more points during his eight games in charge.

Sage, who was coach of the Lyon academy team, took over as interim boss in November and promptly oversaw two more defeats  – 2-0 to Lens and 3-0 at Marseille – to leave the seven-times champions with seven points from a possible 42.

"If we go back to the night of that loss, the statistics were that we were almost 100 per cent certain to go down to Ligue 2," said Sage.

"So the players were up against the wall at that point," Sage added. "They managed to pick themselves up, managed to win the three following games and get out of the relegation zone before the end of the year."

Seven games from the end of the campaign, Sage has been confirmed as permanent coach and his side lies 10th with 35 points.

Feat

"We need just a few more points to be absolutely sure but we're likely to achieve something that we were told was impossible to do," added the 44-year-old Frenchman.

"And winning the Coupe de France would be truly extraordinary. It would also reward the reaction this group has shown. As the saying goes: 'When you hit rock bottom, the only way is up.'"

Valenciennes appear to be heading in the opposite direction. They are bottom of Ligue 2 with 17 points from 30 fixtures. All that seemingly remains is the identity of the other teams who will drop with them into the third tier of French football.

"We have to enjoy this incredible moment," said Valenciennes coach Ahmed Kantar ahead of the semi-final.

"The players have performed wonders to get us here to the semis. They're fighters and they'll will leave body and soul on the field to get the win."

Valenciennes last reached the final of the Coupe de France in 1951 when they were also in the second division.

They lost the final to Strasbourg and have been in the last four on only two more occasions in 1963 and 1970.

"This will be one of the best games in the history of the club," Kantar added. "We've got to try and stay cool so that we can actually play it but really this is already a final for us."

The victors will take on either Paris Saint-Germain or Rennes in the final at theStade Pierre Mauroy in Lille on 25 May.

"We must not get lulled into thinking this will be an easy match," Sage said. "We will have to show respect to Valenciennes. They are coming to Lyon to win and we will have to work hard to stop them from doing that."

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