UEFA Cup contenders FC Sochaux-Montbéliard are punching above their weight this season.
By Matthew Spiro
FC Sochaux-Montbéliard's emphatic 6-2 aggregate win against BV Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Cup second round has highlighted the progress that coach Guy Lacombe is making at the Stade Auguste-Bonal.
'Magnifique Sochaux', boomed the headline on the front page of sports daily L'Equipe after the French club ended Dortmund's UEFA Cup hopes with a crushing 4-0 home win. Appearing in their first European campaign since they reached the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 1981, Sochaux overpowered the 1997 UEFA Champions League winners in one of the most memorable nights in the club's history.
"My players were outstanding and I'm extremely proud of them," declared Lacombe. "To eliminate a side of Dortmund's calibre is a great achievement for Sochaux." Lacombe was nevertheless reluctant to read too much into the result, insisting that the fifth-minute dismissal of Dortmund defender Salvatore Gambino was a major factor.
"If it had been eleven against eleven it would've been a different story," Lacombe insisted. "The sending off tilted the tie towards us, so for that reason it is too early to start claiming that a new group has been born. We have a run of difficult league matches coming up - they will provide a better indication of how good we are."
Sochaux started that run in fine fashion by winning 3-2 against AJ Auxerre and 3-0 at RC Lens last weekend to extend their unbeaten run to eleven matches and reach the dizzy heights of fourth in the table. With the top three teams in France qualifying for the Champions League, defender Johann Lonfat is optimistic that Sochaux will have more big European nights to look forward to next season.
"To play in the Champions League would be a dream," said Lonfat. "But we feel as though we have a very talented, young group here. We beat Dortmund 4-0, then scored three times in 45 minutes against Auxerre. Not every team could do that."
Lonfat and midfield player Michaël Isabey both played starring roles against Auxerre after being rested for the Dortmund game, and striker Pierre-Alain Frau believes the depth of the Sochaux squad is one of the keys to their current success. "This is why we are stronger than last year," argued the former France Under-21 international, who has scored seven goals in his last eight matches. "Everyone in the squad is capable of coming in and doing a good job."
Indeed with Wilson Oruma, Jérémy Mathieu and Isabey marauding forward from midfield to support Frau and his Brazilian strike-partner Francilendo Dos Santos, Sochaux are not short of attacking options. Doubts remain, however, over the team's ability to hold on to a lead. "At 3-0 against Auxerre we tried to sit back and defend and it almost cost us," Frau pointed out. "We should've kept on attacking because we don't know how to play a defensive game."
But captain and defensive midfield linchpin Benoît Pedretti is not unduly concerned. "The defence is very young yet they showed great maturity against Dortmund," said the French international. "Even with ten men, players like Jan Koller and Tomáš Rosický can pose a threat."
Team to beat
Certainly Pedretti, who resisted overtures from Olympique de Marseille in the summer, is pleased he stayed at the Auguste-Bonal. "I'm delighted to still be here and to be part of this exciting group," he enthused. "Sochaux are the team to beat in France right now and we'll do our best to make sure it stays that way."