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.
Fickle winds produced farcical scenes yesterday on day two of the America’s Cup challenger series in Auckland, as the so-called “flying” yachts spent almost as much time in the water as above it. “I’m not sure today is a really accurate read because it’s so puffy, it’s shifty,” British sailing legend Ben Ainslie said after his Ineos Team UK maintained their perfect start to the Prada Cup series with a third straight win. The series would determine which of the 23m yachts — which fly above the water balanced on hi-tech foil arms — would challenge defending champion Team New Zealand for
Transgender athletes are to have an ally in the White House next week, as they seek to participate as their identified gender in high school and college sports — although state legislatures, the US Congress and the courts are all expected to have their say this year, too. Attorneys on both sides say they expect US president-elect Joe Biden’s Department of Education to switch sides in two key legal battles — one in Connecticut, the other in Idaho — that could go a long way in determining whether transgender athletes are treated by the sex on their birth certificates or by
DOUBLES VICTORY: The men’s doubles pairing of Taiwanese Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin downed Malaysians Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi, and face South Koreans today Men’s badminton world No. 2 Chou Tien-chen yesterday marched into the semi-finals of the Thailand Open, defeating younger opponent Lee Zii-jia 21-17, 21-15 after a rally, while Tai Tzu-ying had no trouble getting past her Canadian opponent in the women’s singles. The top male Taiwanese credited calm and focus in securing his win after briefly falling behind against his 22-year-old Malaysian opponent. “I think I had more patience against him and I won most of the long rallies,” the 31-year-old Chou said of Lee. “He wanted to attack [too much] and maybe he lost some focus,” Chou said. In today’s semi-finals, second-seeded Chou faces
DOUBLE VISION: The men’s duo of Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin downed the South Korean pairing of Choi Sol-gyu and Seo Seung-jae to secure their place in the final Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying yesterday easily defeated Mia Blichfeldt in her women’s singles match to advance to the finals of the Yonex Thailand Open in Bangkok, while Chou Tien-chen crashed out of the tournament. Tai quickly ousted world No. 18 Blicheldt, of Denmark, in 34 minutes, winning 21-8, 23-21. The world No. 1 today must overcome Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain, who took down An Se-young of South Korea yesterday 21-18, 21-16. In men’s singles, Taiwan’s Chou fell to Hong Kong’s Angus Ng Ka Long after a tough 66 minutes of play. While Chou, the world No. 2, bested Ng in the first set,