FC Nantes has won the Coupe de France for the first time in 21 years after defeating OGC Nice 1-0 at Stade de France on Saturday. Ludovic Blas scored the game-winning penalty in the second half.
Given their superior status in Ligue 1 and their manager’s Championnat win with Lille OSC last season, Christophe Galtier’s Aiglons were minor favorites, but Antoine Kombouare’s men were the more motivated group and clinched a ticket in the 2022-23 Europa League after an 18-year absence.
It wasn’t the best domestic cup final in terms of spectacle, with clear opportunities few, but that won’t matter to Nantes and their supporters, who have gone from the playoffs to avoid relegation to a trophy win and continental soccer in the space of a year.
Nice should still be able to join them, but they’ve fallen out of contention at the worst possible time. They’ll need to find some scoring form in the last three Ligue 1 games, or Galtier’s successful first season in charge at Allianz Riviera will come to an end.
The Frenchman departed Lille following their shock Ligue 1 title triumph last season, and his decision was vindicated as Les Dogues’ title defense has been disastrous, with a bottom-half-of-the-table finish a distinct possibility.
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Those expecting Galtier to continue up where he left off with LOSC with Nice should temper their expectations, as the 55-year-loss old’s to Nantes highlighted the flaws that the 55-year-old still needs to address if Nice is to become one of France’s secondary powers behind Paris Saint-Germain.
It would be stupid for any club, especially one as well-funded as Le Gym’s INEOS-backed project, to aim to dethrone the capital club from their domestic throne, but AS Monaco and Lille have proved in recent years that Ligue 1 can still be won by teams other than Les Parisiens.
Nice can be the best of the rest, and Galtier appears to have mastered it in recent years, but he’ll need more consistency from his players moving ahead, as well as a better attack, to avoid the kind of fading form we’ve seen recently.
Les Aiglons were in contention for UEFA Champions League qualifying earlier this year but a difficult run of three victories in nine games, including a four-game winless streak, ruined their hopes, and they are now competing for a Europa League ticket.
With three games remaining, the race will most certainly go down to the last day, with AS Monaco, Olympique de Marseille, Stade Rennais, and RC Strasbourg Alsace all in contention. Olympique Lyonnais and RC Lens are lurking just behind them, waiting to pounce.
None of Nice’s problems detract from Kombouare and his players’ tremendous effort and performance in Ligue 1, as they went from relegation contenders to European contenders before gaining their return to Europe via the Coupe de France.
PSG’s Mauricio Pochettino was left off the recent French Coach of the Year shortlist, with Galtier, Kombouare, and Strasbourg’s Julien Stephan all being favored, and this non-Parisien cup final is one of the reasons for it.
With Nice defeating PSG on penalties at Parc des Princes earlier this year, both clubs reaching the final was a significant achievement, and it serves as a timely reminder that all the money pouring into the capital club no longer ensures complete domestic domination.