Coach Frédéric Antonetti is enjoying the buzz of "seeing something other than French teams" as his Stade Rennais FC team look to push their way past FK Crvena Zvezda on Thursday and into the UEFA Europa League group stage.
A 2-1 win in Belgrade last week has left Rennes in a fine position to progress, with big things expected of Antonetti's side. Owned by the wealthy Pinault family, their youth academy has been chosen as the best in France for the last six seasons. While they are yet to challenge for the highest honours – they finished sixth in 2010/11 – most French pundits believe it is a matter of when, rather than if, they will.
A comfortable win against Metalurgi Rustavi in the third qualifying round lined Rennes up for a meeting with Crvena Xvezda, with Jonathan Pitroipa and Victor Montano scoring in Serbia to give them a lead to defend in Thursday's decider. With the UEFA Europa League group stage now in sight, things are looking up for the club that played in the same round of the UEFA Cup in 2005/06 and 2007/08.
For Antonetti, who has been Rennes coach since 2009, European competition adds a new dimension to a season in which his primary challenge was to earn a decent finish in Ligue 1. "We fought hard to get into Europe this season and now this competition is definitely part of our plans," he said. "Seeing something else than French teams is very inspiring."
Two French Cups, in 1965 and 1971, have represented the twin peaks of Les Rouges et Noirs achievements to date, and they have yet to play a springtime game in a UEFA club competition. However, should they manage to find the striker they have been searching for since the start of the summer, it could be that this is the season when Rennes take that next step.
Antonetti is doing his best to keep his European ambitions modest, but there is no doubt where he and his club see their future. "We are still a work in progress," he said. "It is important to go as far as possible in the Europa League because it's vital to get international experience for our players.
The minimum would be to reach the group stage, but I think we'll do better than in previous years."
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