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Thursday, April 19, 2001
French Cup: Nantes close in on double

PARIS, April 19 (Reuters) - Nantes will be on the verge of re-writing the record books if they can defeat Strasbourg in the French Cup semi-finals on Friday night.

Nantes are aiming to become only the third team to win the cup three years in succession - and the first for over 50 years. Red Star did it from 1921-23 and Lille from 1946-48.

With the Canaries four points clear at the top of the French first division with three rounds remaining, coach Raynald Denoueix's side remain on target for the first league-cup double since AJ Auxerre in 1996.

'Playing for the title, playing in a cup semi-final, that's an unbelievable opportunity,' said midfielder Stephane Ziani. 'We are all delighted - but there is pressure at the same time.'

Nantes will be without central defender Nestor Fabbri for several games as they chase the double. The Argentine defender, a key figure in their successes this season, is out of action for three weeks with a muscle injury to his left thigh.

Strasbourg, meanwhile, will be looking to salvage something from a poor season that has seen them relegated from the first division for the eighth time in their history.

The Alsace side have twice won the cup - in 1951 and 1966 - and were beaten finalists six years ago.

ISMAEL RETURNS

They will be without defenders Pierre Njanka, on international duty with Cameroon, and Gharib Amzine, who is with the Morocco team, but welcome back Valerien Ismael after suspension.

In Saturday's other semi-final, third division Amiens play host to Troyes. Amiens are aiming to follow in the footsteps of non-league Calais, who made it all the way to last year's final before losing to Nantes.

Upsets are frequent in the French Cup because of a rule that any side drawn against a team from two or more divisions lower must play that match away from home.

Amiens, who are expected to win promotion back to the second division after just one season in the third, have enjoyed a remarkable season under coach Denis Troch.

They reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup and are now one upset away from a place in the French Cup final after wins over second division sides Beauvais and Le Mans and first division Stade Rennes.

Amiens are clearly a club going places. They have an ultra-modern 12,000 capacity all-seater stadium, their own website and plenty of belief in their own ability.

'The public in Amiens were very disappointed when we were relegated at the end of last season, but our performances this season have enabled the fans to once again identify with the team,' said Troch.

'We'll certainly need the fans behind us on Saturday.' The last time Amiens made the last four of the French Cup was in 1930 - when they lost to Racing Club.

'It's not nice when the club's greatest moment was over 70 years ago,' said Troch. 'We hope we can change that.'

DOUBLE CHASE

Midfielder Emmanuel Duchemin, a home grown talent, said there was a feeling in the Amiens squad that they can complete a double of their own.

'I hope that we can seal promotion - and the cup is a real bonus,' Duchemin said. 'It is extraordinary that we are in the semis but we must not put too much pressure on ourselves.

'Of course we are all dreaming of playing at the Stade de France but we aren't talking about it too much among ourselves.

'All the teams in division one play great football, but we just have to adapt - as we did against Rennes. In one match, anything is possible.'

Troyes, a small town club from the Champagne regions who have always had modest ambitions, have grown in stature over the past two seasons under coach Alain Perrin by establishing themselves in the first division.

Like Amiens, they have never won a major trophy in their history but did make the French Cup final in 1956, losing 3-1 to Sedan.

 


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