The magical run by minnows ASM Belfort in the Coupe de France on Tuesday came to an end at the quarter-final stage after a 3-0 home defeat to holders Stade Rennais.
The fourth-division side were applauded off the pitch at a packed Stade Auguste Bonal, the home of Ligue 2 side Sochaux-Montbeliard, after a thrilling cup run that saw them knock out UEFA Champions League-chasing Montpellier Herault in the previous round.
Rennes are third in Ligue 1 and hoping to qualify for Europe’s top competition next season, but that did not stop Belfort from pushing them all the way — so much so that Rennes players gave their amateur opponents an honor guard at the end of the match.
“We have no regrets,” Belfort coach Anthony Hacquard said. “We’re truly amateur, so we’re just proud to have been there. To see all these people coming to the stadium makes us proud.”
A first-half strike by Raphinha, an M’Baye Niang spot-kick 16 minutes from the end and Jordan Siebatcheu’s counterattack finish in stoppage-time did for Belfort.
However, the deficit would have been bigger had Belfort goalkeeper Eddy Ehlinger not pulled off some magnificent saves in the second half.
Just 18 years old and already a penalty shoot-out hero against Montpellier, Ehlinger kept the deficit at one goal midway through the second half with two magnificent one-on-one saves from Adrien Hunou and Niang, but could do nothing to stop Rennes making it two from the subsequent corner.
Yannick Konki got his hand to a shot, allowing Senegal international Niang to make amends from the spot for his miss seconds earlier and ensure that Rennes move on to the semis.
Belfort continued to push for a goal as the enthusiastic home crowd cheered them on, but Rennes threatened on the break and Ehlinger denied Hunou again with 10 minutes left with a superb stop.
Siebatcheu made the scoreline more flattering for Rennes a minute into added time, meeting Raphinha’s low pass with a calm finish.
SAS Epinal, another fourth-tier side who saw off Lille OSC in the last 16, have a chance to take amateur soccer to the semis when they host AS Saint-Etienne today.
There were two all-Ligue 1 encounters scheduled for yesterday, with Dijon FCO awaiting the visit of Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Lyonnais coach Rudi Garcia facing his old team Olympique de Marseille in the other last-eight tie.
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