The first weekend of 2015 witnessed cup action in both England and France as the FA Cup and Coupe de France both entered the last 64 team stage with several lower tier teams keen to create giant-killing acts against their more illustrious rivals. Most of the Premier League teams escaped serious embarrassment but Ligue 1 leaders Marseille suffered the indignity of losing to fourth tier team Grenoble on Sunday evening in a match which could be described as fairly dramatic.
Marseille lead Ligue 1 by two points from Lyon but their Sunday evening opponents Grenoble Foot 38 also lead their domestic French league by one point in the Championnat de France Amateur (CFA) Groupe C. Reserve teams from Monaco, Lyon and Nice also participate in the same group.
Grenoble share the Stade des Alpes with the FC Grenoble rugby team and had suffered bankruptcy and relegation to the fifth tier of French football in 2011 before their recent revival and the prospect of promotion to the third tier National League next season.
However, when a strong Marseille team arrived in Grenoble on Sunday evening for the Coupe de France clash, they were faced with a pitch badly affected by a rugby match just the day before. The poor state of the surface was deemed to a leveller but nobody anticipated the events which were about to unfold.
Leading Marseille striker Andre-Pierre Gignac claimed the first goal of the match as early as the sixth minute but Grenoble responded just four minutes later via a Mourad Nasrallah strike. Gignac then scored again before Fares Hachi claimed a second equaliser and no further goals ensued in normal time.
An Andre Ayew goal eight minutes into extra-tie appeared to have sealed Marseille’s progress into the next round especially as their superior fitness was expected to be a contributory factor in winning the match.
Yet Grenoble captain Selim Bengriba had not been reading the script as he headed home another equaliser with just seconds to spare. In the resulting penalty shoot-out, Mourad Nasrallah fired the decisive spot-kick for a 5-4 win after Florian Thauvin had missed with his attempt. Thauvin had begun his senior career in 2010 at Grenoble before moving onto Corsican team Bastia.
Although Marseille head coach Marcelo Bielsa claimed full responsibility for what he termed an embarrassing defeat, Grenoble may be a better team than their lowly league status suggests. Since assuming their current name in 1997, Grenoble Foot 38 have experienced fluctuating fortunes in recent seasons with promotion to Ligue 1 achieved in 2008. Relegation followed in 2010 when the team finished entrenched at the foot of the league with further decline occurring in the ensuing years.
With a Coupe de France victory against Marseille, Genoble may at last be demonstrating that they are once again an ambitious team with further promotions targeted and in the long term, the result may not be viewed as so surprising as first appeared.
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