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Old order restored in France

Published: Wednesday 2 June 2004, 19.01CET
France review Ligue 1's traditional footballing powers rose again after several years of surprises. features

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Published: Wednesday 2 June 2004, 19.01CET

Old order restored in France

France review Ligue 1's traditional footballing powers rose again after several years of surprises.
France's traditional footballing powers rose again after several years of surprises - but Olympique Lyonnais could not be prevented from claiming their third title in a row.

Impressive tally
Lyon, indeed, claimed the title at an impressive rate of 1.9 points per game, the highest for five years. Only traditional powers Paris Saint-Germain FC and AS Monaco FC could keep pace, while Olympique de Marseille only dropped out of the race when hit by internal problems, but still reached the UEFA Cup final in an excellent - but heartbreaking - season for French clubs in Europe.

Minnows edged out
In contrast FC Nantes Atlantique and Lille OSC, first and third respectively three seasons ago, were well off the pace and both missed out on UEFA Cup places. PSG ended a six-year run without a trophy by beating second division LB Châteauroux 1-0 in the French Cup final. Even a traditional power, US Saint-Etienne, won promotion back to the top flight.

Old order restored
Why the old order has suddenly been restored has been a matter for debate, but Didier Deschamps, who led Monaco to the UEFA Champions League final and third in Ligue 1 despite crippling financial problems in the close season, has a theory.

Financial stability
"The main reason for our success is that we could keep our players," he said. The recession in the European transfer market compared to the closely-regulated financial stability in France meant that Marseille could reclaim Fabien Barthez, RC Strasbourg could sign Richard Dutruel and AC Ajaccio could acquire Bernard Diomède from Liverpool FC.

New arrivals
Deschamps was a key beneficiary with the loan of Fernando Morientes from Real Madrid CF, and Lyon's successful title bid was helped by the arrival of striker Giovane Elber from FC Bayern München. Those two teams competed for the title until Monaco, perhaps distracted by their Champions League run, stumbled and allowed PSG to grab second place.

European success
But even if Les Bleus do not retain their UEFA European Championship crown in Portugal, everyone in France will remember this season for Monaco and Marseille's heroics in Europe, as well as Lyon's Champions League quarter-final run. Indeed, not for six years has France has two sides in the last eight of that tournament - when the nation went on to lift the FIFA World Cup.

Long way to go
However, the recent survey that showed Lyon to be only the 19th richest club in Europe shows that Ligue 1 sides still face a tough time in continental competition, and indeed the key French internationals will continue to be attracted abroad.

Last updated: 02/06/04 11.06CET

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