Olympique de Marseille play host to Paris Saint-Germain FC on Sunday as France's fiercest rivals come face to face for Le Classique for the first time this season.
North versus south
Eight hundred kilometres separate the two cities but the distance only serves to heighten the enmity between them as France's north and south collide. Marseille and PSG are the country's best supported teams, representing the contrasting cultures from France's biggest cities. They are the only French clubs to win European silverware, and both are desperate to restake their claim to the French crown after falling off the pace in recent years.
Boli versus Roche
Marseille's Basile Boli and PSG defender Alain Roche played against each other in the Nineties during the clubs' heydays when the rivalry was at it most intense and both have powerful memories of the Derby de France. Boli now has his own television show on OM TV, while former centre-back Roche is chief scout at PSG. Each boast impressive resumes.
Boli is not just an icon on La Canebière but all over France. It was his header on 26 May 1993 that brought Marseille, and France, their first and so far only European Champion Clubs' Cup triumph. Capped 45 times for France, Boli played for Marseille from 1990 to 1994, and still keeps his eye in with amateur side AS Chatou in, of all places, a Parisian suburb.
Roche, a former centre-back, started his career at FC Girondins de Bordeaux and had a season with Marseille before joining PSG in 1992. He stayed there until 1998, winning the UEFA Cup Winnners' Cup with the capital club in 1996. He was capped 25 times for France. Here the pair look back on their experiences of the most eagerly awaited game in France.
What makes Le Classique so special?
Basile Boli: It was wild, especially [at that time] because there were eight internationals playing for Marseille and eight players in Paris who could have replaced them. And they wanted to replace them.
Alain Roche: I lived the rivalry between [FC Girondins de] Bordeaux and Marseille. Then after that Paris [were bought by French television channel Canal+ in 1991 which] gave them the means to perform very well. They became the main challengers to Marseille who had been the best for a long time. The rivalry increased further under their colourful presidents [Bernard Tapie in Marseille, Michel Denisot in Paris] and two squads with many international players. It was also Paris against the provinces. North against South.
What memories do you have from those games?
Boli: I remember we played those games in our minds a fortnight before each one.
At our training camp the dates of the games against Paris were circled in red. We could not miss them. In case we were in danger of forgetting, fans reminded us with a countdown.
Roche: Nothing interesting - I never won against them. They were never good games; too much pressure, too much passion. The event was so hyped up by the media. But I do have one memory. Three days after they won the [UEFA] Champions League final, Basile Boli scored an exceptional goal against us. It's the goal that made the biggest impression on me.
Is the rivalry as strong now as it was when you played?
Boli: It doesn't create the same buzz as it used to do. There was a strong rivalry in the past that does not exist as such today. But we must put an end to a nightmare series [of nine games without a win in all competitions]. So Come on l'OM!
Roche: It's not a summit meeting any more [PSG are second, Marseille ninth]. If Marseille were third in the league, it would be a top game. Even so it remains important for everybody, especially for our fans.
What are the teams like today?
Boli: Paris have the advantage of not being in Europe this season so they can focus on the league and domestic cups. Against us, however, they will be without [the suspended] Pauleta. Without him they are a completely different team. I hope we can benefit from his absence and end our bad series of results against them.
Marseille have changed since I played against them. What has not changed is the support they get from their fans [OM averaged nearly 50,000 per game in Ligue 1 last season, the highest in France].
Interviews courtesy of psg.fr and om.net
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