Ten-time French champions AS Saint-Etienne go into their final Ligue 1 match of the season still clinging to an outside hope of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League for the first time.
Fourth-placed Saint-Etienne, who were the country’s top club in the 1960s and 1970s, visit LOSC Lille Metropole needing to make up a two-point gap on Olympique Lyonnais to finish third and book a place in the Champions League qualifying round.
Champions League regulars Lyon, who did not play in the Champions League this season after getting into the knockout stages of Europe’s top club competition every year since 2002-2003, host mid-table Stade Rennais. They have a worse goal-difference than Saint-Etienne and cannot afford to slip up.
Saint-Etienne have already ended a 32-year trophy drought by winning the Coupe de la Ligue last month.
Under coach Christophe Galtier, who shared the manager of the year award with Paris Saint-Germain’s Carlo Ancelotti, the 1976 European Cup runners-up have rediscovered some brilliance on the pitch.
Saint-Etienne were 10th in the table at the winter break, but now have the opportunity to finish the season in the top four for the first time since 1986-1987.
“The season has already been beautiful. If we have the luck to win on Sunday, it would be really exceptional,” midfielder Fabien Lemoine told reporters.
Galtier has already extended his deal at a club that has enjoyed rare stability and steady improvement after two decades marred by bad management and two relegations to the second division.
“The coach’s deal extension is a very good thing for the club. Since he took charge of the team [in 2010], he has managed to create a collective momentum and bring quality to the squad,” Lemoine said.
The Coupe de la Ligue victory secured Saint-Etienne a place in next season’s Europa League, but they would have to go through the preliminary rounds.
Fourth place would take them straight to the Europa League group stage and third would send them into the third preliminary round of the Champions League.
However, the task will be hard at Lille, who also have slight hopes of clinching third spot if they win and Lyon lose at home.
“This is our last chance. We have no right to fail,” captain Rio Mavuba told the club’s Web site. “Let’s beat Saint-Etienne first, then we’ll see what happens as for the third spot.”
While they still can book their place in the lucrative Champions League, the 2010-2011 champions are also under the threat of not playing in any European ties next season if sixth-placed OGC Nice get a better result at AC Ajaccio. Nice are level on points with Lille, but their inferior goal-difference prevents them from seeking third spot.
Champions Paris Saint-Germain travel to mid-table Lorient with the uncertainty over Carlo Ancelotti’s situation overshadowing the side.
Fourth-from-bottom Sochaux-Montbeliard, three points ahead of ES Troyes AC, need a draw at SC Bastia to avoid relegation.
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