This Sunday sees the 70th anniversary of one of the most memorable sporting events of all time: the French-language version of “Selection Sunday”, known as “La Coupe du Monde”, or the World Cup. One of the most iconic images of the competition is surely that of Pierra Nelli, the hare of the French team, breaking the tape ahead of her victorious compatriots in the 1952 Olympics marathon in Helsinki. Even now, more than 80 years later, the image continues to strike fear into the hearts of athletics fans around the world.
Not all of France’s great sporting moments were created equal though. While the aforementioned team still boasts a massive following, many would argue that the country’s worst sporting moment also marked one of its greatest successes. In 1966, the French men’s national football team (nicknamed the “Red Devils”) inexplicably lost to minnows Northern Ireland in controversial circumstances, despite scoring twice in the first half and having the majority of the possession. More than 50 years later, the result remains one of the all-time great sporting upsets. Although the players and staff involved have since spoken of their regret at the loss and how much they respect the Irish, the fact remains that, were Ireland to host the 2018 World Cup, France would be its first choice for qualification.
This year’s French Cup kicks off in Paris on Sunday June 16th and will continue through to the end of July. The competition features 12 teams, including Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Marseille, and Toulouse. One or more of these clubs could win the trophy, with the final held in the last week of the competition. Here we break down the key match-ups and predictions for which team will come out on top:
Which Team Will Win the French Cup?
Just like any other major tournament in world football, the opening round of the French Cup features eight seeded teams and four unseeded clubs. The top four seeds are holders Stade de France, PSG; current champions Olympique Marseille; Guingamp, who beat PSG in the previous final; and Lyon, the third-largest city in France and the unofficial capital of French football.
Since the opening round is mostly made up of domestic fixtures, all of these teams will be looking to establish a dominance over the competition that will remain unbroken until the very end. In the previous round of the French Cup, only one side was able to reduce the scoreline significantly: Saint-Étienne, who defeated Guingamp 5-2 in the Quarterfinals, before beating Toulouse 2-0 in the Semifinals. This is a testament to the strength of French football that, even now, after more than 70 years, there are still some truly intimidating teams from the old league.
One of the major talking points surrounding the French Cup is whether or not the competition is really as tough as it looks. Indeed, as we’ve established, the country has produced some exceptional football sides in the past, so it will be interesting to see how the present generation of French footballers deal with international competition. Four of the twelve teams that finished in the top four positions of Ligue 1 this past season were signed for large sums of money by international clubs, namely Paris Saint-Germain (Algeria), Olympique Marseille (Tunisia), and Bordeaux (Senegal)
Which Team Will Win the Irish Cup?
The Irish Cup brings together the four provincial sides from the North, as well as Galway United from the Republic of Ireland. Like the French Cup, the opening round of the Irish Cup sees the top four clubs from the Eircom League Premier Division face off against the bottom four clubs from the Republic’s Division Two. These matches are made up of two legs and, like many tournaments, the first leg will be played on a neutral ground – typically a sports stadium in Northern Ireland – and the second leg will be played in the teams’ hometowns. The winner of the Irish Cup will qualify for the Playoffs for the chance to represent their country in the World Cup in Russia this summer.
It’s no secret that the Irish have produced some great footballers over the years, with many featuring prominently for top clubs during the 20th century. In fact, the Republic of Ireland is currently ranked 12th in the world by FIFA and has won the European Championship once. This year, the island nation is represented by the Bray Wanderers, Dundalk, and Galway United in the Cup.
With a bit of history behind us, we’d like to think that we know a bit about what to expect from these two tournaments. With that in mind, here are our predictions for the French and Irish Cups:
- Stade de France: For a French team, they’ve actually played a bit of a blinder in the 2015 tournament. Despite only winning one match in Group B, against Macedonia, they progressed to the Round of 16 with a 100% record. In that round, they defeated Andorra and were drawn against Iceland. The Scots had already knocked out the French in the previous round, so this match was not going to be an easy one. However, with the way that they’ve played in recent years and the fact that they’re hosting the tournament, we’d be surprised if Stade de France don’t win at least one game.
- Olympique Marseille: Having won the French Cup just last year, the Italian side Juventus have taken a serious interest in our favorite French club. Indeed, the Turin-based side have become such big fans of the Red Devils that they’ve even gone as far as to open a sports marketing agency in Paris solely to assist with the club’s commercial ventures. Unfortunately for the Italian side, Marseille are red hot right now and will be looking to continue their form into the next major tournament.
- Guingamp: Last year’s runners-up have a lot to talk about. After a largely uneventful first half of this year, during which time they didn’t win any matches, the club has found form in the last few months. Since the start of May, they’ve won four in a row and look a real force to be reckoned with. With the likes of William Cuvelier, Clement Grenier, and Jean-Michel Auchuat playing a crucial role in the club’s recent surge, it’s clear that Guingamp are well and truly back. If they can keep this form up, it won’t be long before they’re challenging for the French title.
- Lyon: Just like their great city rivals, Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon are another team that have been consistent winners in the French league. Since the start of the century, they’ve won 11 titles as a team, the latest in 2019. Like Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon are not a team to be trifled with and definitely one to be weary of when traveling to France.