1… 2… 3… Trophy! Only 3 matches for all the teams in the quarter finals of the Coupe de la Ligue before they can hold up the “fastest” of the national trophies.
And their motivation has been increased tenfold by a favourable draw. The 2006-2007 Coupe de la Ligue campaign seems made to measure for Gérard Houllier’s men who stand to host all three games that could take them to the final at the Stade de France on March 31, 2007. “Playing at home in our last game as well as the next two, in front of our own fans, forces us to win”, says Grégory Coupet’s traditional understudy.
Also in OL’s favour: for the sconed time this season, after the round of 16 victory over PSG, OL won’t start as outright favourites. The magic of cup competitions lies in this levelling of prospects. “In cup games, there is a different emotion, passion and intensity”, reasons Gérard Houllier. “Over 90, 120 minutes or a penalty shootout, there will be a result”. If they don’t want to lose hope of defending their Cup victory from last season, Nancy will have to really find form, more than they did the last time they visited Gerland on October 29 this year. This is good news for the five-time French champions, who are regularly confronted at home by defensive-minded teams with no intention of going forward. The last three meetings with AS Nancy Lorraine have yielded three tight victories for OL (1–0 and 2–0 last season and 1–0 this season). “Against Nancy, it’s always tight. They are a tough team, hard to get around”, says Houllier.
< b > On Wednesday, OL will have the opportunity to get past the quarter finals, something they have not done since their Coupe de la Ligue triumph in 2001. After three failures at this stage of competition in the Champions League and the Coupe de France last year, they will be looking to break this bad habit that many would refer to as “Quarter Final Syndrome” should OL not beat Pablo Correa’s men on Wednesday .
Nancy’s record, however, favour them. Before their Coupe de la Ligue success in 2006, they seems uninspired in the cup. They hadn’t got past the quarter finals of any national cup since they won the Coupe de France in 1978. they made it to the quarters 4 times (losing three times to PSG and once to Bastia) .
Sure, Tiago and Juninho will be suspended, Carew and Wiltord injured, Benzema and Fred in rehabilitation and Anthony Réveillère limited. But these absences will far from cripple OL. “I always prefer to paly with key players”, says Gérard Houllier before noting that OL “played at Lens without a recognised centre-forward but scored 4 goals anyway.” The only certainty, according to Houllier, is that François Clerc will replace Anthony Réveillère on the right of the defence. In fact, after 90 minutes of hard fight against Hilton and Coulibaly, Florent Malouda could return to the team in the unaccustomed position of centre-forward, unless replaced by Sidney Govou. Romain Beynié has been called in to reinforce the midfield that will be missing two mainstays, more than a year after his professional debut in a dead rubber versus Rosenborg .
Wednesday night, the excitement and the competition should be something else. Just three steps from a trophy, anything else would seem ridiculous. For an OL side whose hunger for titles is matched only by its never-say-die attitude, there is no question of letting this chance pass them by .