A miserly defence and an uncompromising style could yet earn FC Girondins de Bordeaux a place in next season's UEFA Champions League.
Ligue 1 may boast more attractive sides, but as they sit second in the table ahead of Saturday's trip to AS Monaco FC, no one can deny they are efficient. However, the next month could be decisive for the south-west team.
After Les Girondins leapfrogged AJ Auxerre to take second spot with a 1-0 home win on Wednesday, Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Alonso scoring late on, the coming weeks bring fixtures against fellow European hopefuls RC Lens and runaway leaders Olympique Lyonnais. But first the small matter of another side with UEFA Champions League aspirations - Monaco. Bordeaux's Brazilian general manager Ricardo is sure his team are up to any challenge, insisting: "Bordeaux will show their true potential in these big games."
A 1995/96 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup winner with Paris Saint-Germain FC, Ricardo's defensive past has proved crucial in his management of the club that he runs in tandem with Eric Bedouet, who unlike Ricardo has the necessary coaching badges. With all his players working hard to help out an excellent back four of 30-year-old France debutant Franck Jurietti, David Jemmali, Marc Planus and Kodjo Afanou, Bordeaux have conceded just eleven goals in 21 league matches.
Thus, they have managed to collect 36 points while scoring only 18 goals with top marksmen Marouane Chamakh and Jean-Claude Darcheville finding the net three times each. Unsurprisingly, their recent run of three victories - including one away - and two draws reads like something in binary: 1-0, 0-1, 0-0, 0-0, 1-0. "To be honest, we don't care how we win points," said France Under-21 right-winger Julien Faubert. "I know the press and the fans want more goals, but what matters more than anything else in football is winning."
'Let it grow'
Supporters of Bordeaux, European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-finalists in 1984/85 and UEFA Cup finalists in 1995/96, have learned to take their thrills from Faubert's exciting flank play and the overwhelming spirit that exists within the side. For a team who have been in the doldrums of late, that is certainly encouraging, but president Jean-Louis Triaud, who runs the club on behalf of broadcasters M6, is not banking too much on the prospect of European football in 2006/07. "I don't really care about results this season," he said. "We're building a team for the long term. Let it grow."