After knocking FC Schalke 04 out of the UEFA Cup on Thursday, European novices AS Nancy-Lorraine are eager to star in the group stage.
A 3-1 win at home against the German giants overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit and propelled the French side to the group stage in only their second European campaign. Their one previous appearance came in 1978/79 when they were knocked out of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup by Servette FC. Back then, Nancy boasted the talents of a brilliant local youngster by the name of Michel Platini, and the three-time European Footballer of the Year was one of the 18,000 in the stands at the Stade Marcel Picot five days ago as the club in the east of France enjoyed their historic success.
"After the draw everyone considered us beaten," said coach Pablo Correa. "But regardless of their trophies [Schalke lifted the UEFA Cup in 1997], whatever the size of their stadium [the Arena AufSchalke is three times the size of the Picot], whatever the teams [Schalke's budget is five times that of Nancy], football is eleven players against eleven and nothing else counts once the whistle is blown."
The Uruguayan coach, a former Nancy striker, threw caution to the wind from the off, fielding four strikers in an attempt "to cancel out the 1-0 deficit from the first leg quickly". Andre Luiz and Gaston Curbelo duly scored in the first 25 minutes. "I must say that we were lucky that it went to plan," said Correa. When Correa took over at Nancy in November 2002, they were facing relegation to the third division, but he wrestled them back into shape, leading them to promotion back to Ligue 1 and to only the second trophy in their history as they won last season's French League Cup.
'A great pleasure'
Thursday's victory was celebrated as if it were a third trophy. "I don't know how far they can go," said Correa after watching his players celebrate on the pitch. "They could beat anyone but they could also lose against anyone. Either way, it's a great pleasure to work with this team."
"First of all, we're a bunch of good friends," said goalscorer Curbelo, another Uruguyan and the son of a former Nancy player. "We're all ready to die on the pitch for each other." Senegalese midfielder Pape Diakhité added: "It would be a shame if we looked stupid in the four games to come in group stage." Judging by their performance against Schalke, however, Nancy should prove to be opponents as prickly as the red thistle on their badge.
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