Yesterday, in South-West Paris, Lille secured their first Ligue 1 Championship since 1954. James Davenport our man in Paris was there to tell us the tale from the Parc des Princes
The match was an important game for both teams; Lille needed just a point to secure top spot in the League and Paris Saint-Germain were fighting for a place in next seasons Champions League. The stage was set for an entertaining and attacking game and it certainly did not disappoint.
Travelling to matches by train is perhaps one of the best ways to soak up the pre-match atmosphere and on the Paris Metro last night, the atmosphere was electric. As the doors of one of the many trains heading to Parc des Princes closed, PSG and Lille fans alike were cramped together in what would normally be a rather uncomfortable environment. This, however was not a normal Paris evening. In a very Parisian way, the singing on the train was started by an older man who before beginni
ng to play his accordion shouted “Allez Paris!” Those two words were all the PSG fans needed to hear and they promptly broke into song and by doing so drowned out the accordion player who began it all.
Approaching the home of PSG and in the delightfully named “Place de Jules Rimet” the levels of noise and atmosphere continued to grow. Once the 40,000 fans had found their seats it wasn’t long till they were again in full voice. The sound was deafening and the atmosphere, electric. The Lille support, cooped up in a small corner of the ground protected by large barriers and netting were intent on being heard above the PSG fans and they succeeded. It was a true party atmosphere in the Lille corner, complete with flags, megaphones and inflatables.
Just before kick-off, two of PSG’s veteran players, Claude Makelele and Gregory Coupet, who were both playing in their final match were presented with two enormous bouquets of flowers and received rapturous applause from the each and every PSG fan in attendance. Originally, the plan was for both teams to form a guard of honour for Makelele and Coupet but Lille’s manager Rudi Garcia refused to allow his players to be involved as he feared they would lose concentration.
The early pressure form Lille told and in the fifth minute after stringing a few easy passes together on the edge of the Paris area, Ludovic Obraniak took advantage of PSG’s seemingly collective decision to stand off the Lille players and fired a powerful shot into the bottom right hand corner of Coupet’s goal. When an away team scores there is often a wall of silence around the home stadium but this was certainly not the case last night. It is difficult to find a word to describe the Lille fans reaction but saying they ‘exploded’ would not be an exaggeration.
Obraniak’s opener seemed to give PSG the shock they needed and they hit back hard with much improved passing and started to play more attacking football. The home side went on the attack and a quick and fluid move which set Hoarau free and although he was under some pressure from chasing Lille defenders and at a tight angle, he managed to get a good shot away but Landreau matched it with a good save; using his body to smother the shot.
Just as the game was slowly ambling towards halftime, PSG broke forward thanks to great link-up play between Jallet and Bodmer who exchanged numerous passes before Bodmer found Ludovic Giuly in the box whose shot was deflected and sent crashing onto the crossbar.
As halftime approached, Lille had their best chance since their early goal as a one-two between Eden Hazard and Moussa Sow almost split the defence but Mamadou Sakho managed to intercept the final key pass before it reached Hazard who would have surely made it 0-2. Last night’s match was the perfect example of why Sakho is so popular among the PSG fans and it was also clear why he has been linked with big teams in the Premier League.
The second half started with a controversial decision. PSG striker Hoarau skipped past Adil Rami on the edge of the Lille box and then came crashing down to the ground. The referee had no hesitation in showing the PSG striker his second yellow card for diving; a rather harsh second yellow card it seemed. However, replays show that little contact if any was made between Rami and Hoarau so perhaps the referee did make the correct decision.
Although a point would be enough for Lille, it was clear they didn’t want to take any risks and started trying to capitalise on the sending off. As they pressed forward, PSG began to show signs of nervousness. Sakho found himself in the book shortly after Hoarau had been given his marching orders for a silly challenge from behind.
The Parisians seemed to be giving the ball and free kicks away left, right and centre much to the dismay of their manager Antoine Kombouaré who was furious with many of the referee’s decisions and did not hold back when letting the fourth official know about it. Kombouare’s ire came to a head when he left his technical area to confront the fourth official. The referee intervened and as the fourth official turned away to ignore Kombouare’s comments, the PSG manager grabbed his arm to confront him once more. The referee had clearly seen enough and sent Kombouaré to the stands.
Immediately following the sending off of the PSG manager, Lille dominated the possession putting pass after pass together and this paid dividends for them. They found an opening and a defence splitting pass found Moussa Sow who kept his cool and delivered a clinical finish. Of course there were half-hearted calls for offside but they fell on deaf ears and Lille had one hand on the Ligue 1 trophy. The noise from the already very vocal Lille fans filled the whole stadium, so much so in fact, the game could easily have been being played at the Stade Lille-Metropole.
PSG reacted well to going a goal down and charged forward creating a couple of chances, However Lille held strong. Mathieu Bodmer was determined to get his team back in the game and after he faked a shot and skipped past two players just inside the Lille box he fired an unstoppable shot past Landreau and into the roof of the net, sending the PSG fans into raptures.
Of course, a point was all Lille needed and as news filtered through of Marseille being held at home by Valenciennes, the party started for the Lille players and fans. The final whistle was followed by Lille subs and staff streaming out of the technical area onto the pitch to celebrate their great achievement together.
The Lille fans were delirious after waiting so long to become Ligue 1 champions again. The players and staff made their way towards the corner of the Parc des Princes to celebrate with the fans and still the wall of noise emanating from that small corner of the ground was unrelenting.
Video of Ludovic Obraniak’s opening goal on Saturday night