After last year’s cancellation of the cup — due to lower-level sides being unable to participate — it’s fitting that two second division teams remain in contention to lift the trophy this season, writes Martin Whiteley.
For the first time in 13 years there will be a Division 2 side in the Coupe de France Feminine final after Yzeure and Nantes were drawn to face each other in the semi-finals later this month.
Both teams will be hoping they can go one better than Le Mans who were the last to do it when the then-second-tier outfit lost 3-1 to Montpellier in the 2009 showpiece, but it will be a tough test against either Division 1 giants PSG or Fleury 91 who’ll contest the other semi-final on March 27th.
Regardless of the result, Yzeure and Nantes have already written their names into the record books by reaching the semis for the first time in their respective histories.
Seynabou Mbengue struck what proved to be a 12th-minute winner to earn 10-woman Yzeure victory over fellow second-tier team Rodez on Sunday. Despite Afi Woedikou seeing red midway through the second half, the visitors held on for a famous win.
Nantes joined them in the semi-finals following their shock penalty shootout triumph over Division 1 Feminine side Reims. After the game finished 0-0 in regulation time, the away team won 3-0 on penalties thanks to spot-kicks from Pauline Dhaeyer, Margaux Bueno, and Thelma Eninger.
Twenty-four hours earlier, title-chasing PSG beat Montpellier 3-1. Kheira Hamraoui hit the first-half opener, before Grace Geyoro and Marie-Antoinette Katoto put the game beyond their top-flight rivals after the interval. Maelle Lakrar got a consolation goal for the hosts late on.
While Fleury 91 beat Paris FC 4-3 on penalties after their game ended 1-1, with Jeannette Yango converting the winning spot-kick to seal a first semi-final appearance for the away side.
But clubs like Nantes, Yzeure and Rodez, who had a clear objective to aim for before the pandemic began, are not just getting back into the swing of cup runs — they’re reasserting their league ambitions too.
Les Rafettes lost their top-flight status in 2019, the final year all the leagues were able to complete their full fixtures. With the majority of the disruption hopefully in the past, the southern-based side can now fully concentrate on regaining their seat at the top table.
Rodez currently sitting top of Group B on 33 points, with Nice heading the chasing pack on 28 points and just six games left to go. While Coupe de France semi-finalists Yzeure could yet cause another upset as they’re currently in fourth place on 25 points with a game in hand.
Unlike the title chasers who were eager to return to the elite league, Nantes were still on the rise to reach that plateau when play got halted.
Having moved through the local and regional part of the footballing pyramid, the team based in western France eventually made it to the Division 2 level in 2019.
This time around Nantes lead Group A on 34 points. Their closest challengers Lille and Le Havre are just two points behind with seven games left to play.
If both Rodez and Nantes do manage to maintain their positions for the rest of the season then it will certainly be seen as an achievement that has been well worth waiting for.
But Les Canaries and Yzeure would make it a fairytale season if they become the first second-tier team to at long last lift the cup at the expense of big guns PSG or Fleury 91 this term.
Follow Martin on Twitter @673martin