France's six UEFA Cup representatives all negotiated first round first-leg ties unscathed, with AS Monaco FC among the four winners.
France's six UEFA Cup representatives, the largest of any country, all negotiated first round first-leg ties unscathed as the birthplace of European club competition strives to win the trophy for the first time.
French Cup winners AJ Auxerre and League Cup holders RC Strasbourg qualified automatically for the UEFA Cup along with Stade Rennais FC, the runners-up in that latter competition. Olympique de Marseille and RC Lens swelled the contingent to five when successfully negotiating the UEFA Intertoto Cup, while AS Monaco FC were the last to join their countrymen following a UEFA Champions League third qualifying round defeat by Real Betis Balompié.
Despite their obvious disappointment at failing to compete in the Champions League, especially as they reached the final as recently as 2004, Monaco have made it their mission to go all the way to Eindhoven in this competition. They showed that intent with a professional home display against Dutch visitors Willem II, running out 2-0 winners. Oliver Kapo's side-footed effort from close range and Emmanuel Adebayor's header were just reward for the team from the principality, who had plenty of opportunities to put the tie beyond their opponents' reach.
The same year that Monaco were eclipsed by FC Porto in one final, Olympique de Marseille were losing the UEFA Cup version to Valencia CF, having been denied at the same stage by Parma FC five years before. Their bid to go one better this season began at Belgian Cup holders KFC Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen, although a waterlogged pitch seriously hampered both teams' hopes of playing attractive football. Still, Marseille carved out enough chances to win, only for the likes of Christian Giménez, Andrés Mendoza and Wilson Oruma to be denied by inopportune finishing and plucky goalkeeping.
Rennes were not so wasteful as they enjoyed an excellent introduction to life at this level on their UEFA Cup debut, defeating Spanish visitors CA Osasuna 3-1 at Stade Route de Lorient. Alexander Frei, the Switzerland striker, was the star of the show, drilling in the opener in the 26th minute and restoring the advantage with a shade over 15 minutes remaining, following Savo Milošević's 49th-minute leveller for the Primera División outfit. Rennes got the cushion their play deserved in the 83rd minute when Youssouf Hadji converted John Utaka's centre to make it 3-1, although there was still time for Osasuna goalkeeper Juantxo Elía Vallejo to see red.
Strasbourg were perhaps the star performers of the French teams in action, winning 2-0 against Grazer AK in Austria. Mickaël Pagis, in the first minute with a header from Alexander Farnerud's left-wing cross, and Guillaume Lacour, on the stroke of half-time, scored the crucial away goals for Strasbourg. The early goal provided a much-needed fillip for the French side, who lie one place off the bottom of Ligue 1 after picking up just three points from their opening six domestic games.
Jacques Santini's Auxerre side left it late to sink PFC Levski Sofia after the Bulgarian Cup holders looked to have snatched a draw at Stade Abbé Deschamps. Second-half goals from Romain Poyet and Luigi Pieroni spared Auxerre's blushes, although Levski's exiled French striker Cédric Bardon gave his fellow countrymen some food for thought with the away goal that sets up an intriguing return.
Century for Lens
Like fellow Intertoto Cup winners Marseille, Lens could only draw - 1-1 against Groclin Grodzisk Wielkopolski at home to leave them with work to do in Poland. Defender Vitorino Hilton headed the opener from a corner for Lens after 12 minutes but the visitors levelled within 60 seconds through a Piotr Rocki drive. Lens are celebrating their 100th birthday this year and know there would be no better way to celebrate than to go all the way in the UEFA Cup. On tonight's showing, however, their countrymen may have other ideas.