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
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.
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
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.'
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