France will be represented at the 2007 UEFA Regions' Cup finals after Basse-Normandie AMA won the exciting Group 1 mini-tournament on home soil.
The French side overcame Republic of Ireland AMA, who reached the 2005 final tournament, in their first game and then beat reigning champions Basque Country AMA in their second fixture to go into their final day game against Lithuania's Alytis AMA already certain of a place in next summer's finals.
'A good side'
Goals from Marc Paris and Pierre-Yves Marie on the counterattack settled Basse-Normandie's tense opening encounter against the Irish, who ended the game with ten men after John Carroll picked up two yellow cards. Ireland player Ian Callaghan described his side's opponents as "a good side, difficult to break down and very well organised".
Patrick Gonfalone's Basse-Normandie hit the post twice in that first match, while in the other opening-day game, Basque Country played some excellent football against Alytis but had only one goal, from Peio Castresana, to show for their efforts. Alytis opened their account against the Irish on Matchday 2 through Eimantas Valaitis but were beaten by second-half strikes from James Walsh and Michael Keogh.
Meanwhile, 2,000 supporters watched Basse-Normandie take a 36th-minute lead against the Basque Country through Anthony Bonnard. The champions fought back, levelling through José Maria Betes's 50th-minute penalty. However, despite being reduced to ten men following Samuel Desgrippes' dismissal, the home side scored the all-important winner eight minutes from time through Benjamin Tholmer.
Basse-Normandie took their foot off the pedal in their final match, drawing 0-0 against Alytis while the reigning champions recovered from conceding a John O'Neill goal to draw 1-1 against the Irish, Francisco Soberon grabbing the equaliser. Basque Country coach José Antonio Goikoetxea concluded: "From the first match I sensed that my team were a little bit too young to take the pressure. There are no players left from the side that won the title in 2005. We hope to compete in the next edition of the competition but it will not be easy as there are plenty of other good regional sides in Spain."
Pierre Leresteux, head of the Basse-Normandie Football Association added: "Organising this tournament has been very demanding but very satisfying as I think the tournament was a success and all of the delegations were pleased with their stay. I have to thank UEFA and their delegates for their support. My satisfaction is double as our team qualified for the finals."
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