PSG opponents Entente Feignies Aulnoye represent the romantic heart of the Coupe de France


Entente Feignies Aulnoye FC from Championnat National 3 (the French fifth tier) will take on defending Coupe de France champions Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 64 this Sunday at Valenciennes FC’s Stade du Hainaut with magic very much in the air despite Friday’s ugliness when Paris FC vs. Olympique Lyonnais was abandoned after 45 minutes due to another example of the crowd problems that French soccer is experiencing this season. That, however, should not take away from what is arguably the most exciting domestic cup competition in Europe.

“The chance to play against a team from a different league is fantastic,” said PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino ahead of Sunday’s clash. “We will show respect by knowing how they play and analyzing their games ahead of what promises to be an enjoyable game.

“It is a special competition, and all clubs are excited to participate. Coming up against Feignies Aulnoye gives you the chance to share a special moment. As a foreigner, the Coupe de France is important as it is passionate and emotional. These are rewarding competitions to play in.

“There is always the risk of underestimating your opponent so we must show Feignies Aulnoye total respect. France creates many surprises, like in Spain and England, as the magic of the competition can make games complicated.”

Coupe de France’s history of upsets

Many will point to PSG’s six titles from the last possible seven as confirmation of the capital club’s dominance here, but it should be noted that there have still been five different winners since 2011 with Lille OSC, Lyon, Girondins de Bordeaux, EA Guingamp and Stade Rennais all triumphing.

PSG’s Qatari owners arrived at Parc des Princes in 2011, but it took until 2015 for Les Parisiens to reach the Coupe de France final and win the trophy for the first time under their current stewardship.

That year, the beaten finalists were the once mighty AJ Auxerre of Ligue 2, but the real magic of the competition is shown by the fact that in the past decade, two Championnat National (third tier) clubs have reached the showpiece event at Stade de France in US Quevilly and Les Herbiers Vendee Football.

Guingamp, one of the five different winners since 2011, were victorious just two years before in 2009 when they beat Breton rivals Rennes while still a Ligue 2 side — an achievement run close by then fourth tier and now defunct Calais RUFC reaching the 2000 final only to lose to FC Nantes 2-1.

A sea full of French minnow hopefuls

These days, the Coupe de France in its entirety is a thing of enormous beauty with an incredible 8,506 entrants across the country and overseas territories which has been whittled down to 64 coming into this weekend where PSG enter with the likes of Mayotte and Reunion still represented.

The magic is not only limited to obscure minnows like Feignies Aulnoye getting their moment in the sun against the giants as historic five-time winners Red Star will host AS Monaco at their mythical Stade Bauer home.

Lower down than even Feignies Aulnoye are JS Chemin Bas d’Avignon of the seventh tier who will host Ligue 1 Clermont Foot 63 while L’Ecole de Sport Reims Sainte-Anne Carnot Chatillons of the sixth rung will face neighboring topflight giants Stade de Reims in a mismatched derby.

ES Cannet Rocheville were unlucky to see their request to host 10-time winners Olympique de Marseille in Cannes rejected which means that they will likely face annihilation at Stade Velodrome without even the comfort of having been able to call it a home tie.

There is some consolation in the fact that the unwritten etiquette from those clubs dwarfing the size of their opponents is that they usually allow the minnows to keep the ticket sale money which can often account for the entire annual budget of some clubs further down the domestic chain.

Despite rotation, PSG will still play some stars

Although Lionel Messi and other megastars might be rotated by PSG this weekend in Valenciennes, Les Parisiens will still be able to field names such as Sergio Ramos and some majorly talented youngsters while Kylian Mbappe’s ban next midweek should make this his final appearance of 2021.

“The danger is the stop and drool over guys like Messi and Mbappe,” said Krzysztof Ziecik who coaches Feignies Aulnoye alongside Jean Antunes. “We cannot stop our players from daydreaming and thinking about the shirt which they might swap — that is simply human.

“However, it is up to us to make sure that they understand that there is a still a game to play and that there will be television cameras. We must not make ourselves look ridiculous and for that, we must respect our game plan.”

For clubs like Feignies Aulnoye, these opportunities do not come around too often and even if their dream might not last too long once the match is underway, the build-up to these clashes often become the stuff of local legend and sometimes, just sometimes, even more than that.





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