After launching my Palermo diaries as a way of tracking my journey with La Rosanero it feels only right to start one with my other love…..Lille OSC. Although I was born in Glasgow and Celtic are my “team” for the past six years I have followed the fortunes of a small team from Northern France. And now I would consider my love for them just as passionate.

My Lille journey started with a friend’s parent buying me a scarf during a trip to France. Ever since that moment I have grown to love Les Dogues, following them from the heights of the Champions League to the poor seasons when everyone was sold to the highest bidder.

Today saw the Derby du Nord played at the Stade Lille Metropole, local neighbours and rivals Racing Club Lens travelled the forty miles trip to take on the league leaders in what was always going to be a furious and heated match-up. Now if anyone can think of a better day to start a “Lille Diary” let me know.

In hindsight I should have started this diary back in August 2006. It wasn’t till the end of the 2005/06 season that I caught my first Lille game; I watched Peter Odemwingie scored twice against Bordeaux, and I was hooked.

The new season couldn’t come fast enough. Opening the campaign with a 2-1 win away at Rennes, the next weekend saw the opening home game against who else but Les Sang et Or. Nothing like a derby game to kick start your season. It will be hard to forget what I watched that day, it was glorious day in sunny Lille and the players were in the mood.

Mathieu Bodmer opened the scoring and then passed the baton to Odemwingie. Three beautiful goals later, two of which were set up by Abdul Kader Keita, it was a vintage performance from Les Dogues and there was no doubt in my mind, I loved this team.

Fast forward to today and it is exactly twenty eight days until I will be standing in the Metropole watching Lille take on Lyon in what could be a massive game in the title charge. First things first though, Lens are not in contention for the title or a European spot, but they are fighting for their place in Ligue 1.

Derby games are always tough, but when your opponents are trying to stay up a wounded animal is always more dangerous than a dead one. Two wins in a row meant Lens were as dangerous as any side in the division.

The match itself was not a great watch; you could clearly see the influence of new manager Laszlo Bodoni flowing through his side, very tough, well organised and they made it very difficult for the home side. Tackles were flying in and let’s just say they were as accurate as the shooting.

As expected Lille had the majority of the ball, lead by the little magician Eden Hazard they tried to break down the Lens defence. The home side only managed four shots in the first half, none of which were on target. The league’s top scorer Moussa Sow and highly rated winger Gervinho had quiet games, the longer the game went on the fans knew it would come down to a moment of “Hazgic” (that’s Hazard magic).

Lens came out in the second half with a bit more attacking intent, well it’s not hard when you don’t even get a single shot off in the first half. Straight from kick off Toifilou Maoulida made a bee-line for the goal and his 20 yard effort flashed safely wide but it showed more attacking intent.

Watching each unsuccessful Lille attack it was obvious that the eleven players on the pitch weren’t going to breakdown this stubborn well organised defence. The style of the match was screaming out for some height upfront, and with half an hour to go Rudi Garcia noticed it too. He made a double substitution, Ludovic Obraniak and Tulio de Melo coming on for Florent Balmont and Moussa Sow.

It is wonderful when subtle changes make a huge difference, and in just under ten minutes Lille had the lead. Eden Hazard began the move down the left, beating his man he then found Obraniak on the edge of the box, the Pole without controlling the ball chipped it towards the penalty spot and the big Brazilian de Melo stretched out his right foot and flicked the ball with the outside of boot and past the outstretched hand of Vedran Runje. A wonderful goal, and the first shot on target of the entire game, I’m sure Garcia would have had a wry smile on his face.

Yohan Cabaye could have extended the home sides lead, once with a shot from just inside the box that he should have put away and then late on when Runje had to stop Cabaye’s free kick from nestling in the top corner. Lens had a great chance to equalise in the 92nd minute but Akale was offside and his volley went over the bar.

The Heat map of Cabaye just shows the amount of work he will put into the game. With Balmont concentrating on the right side of the field and Mavuba mainly sitting deep it is up to Yohan to patrol the rest of the pitch and when he is on his game he will cause problems for any defence.

From an individual point of view the best player on the pitch was of course Eden Hazard. His heat map shows that it is impossible to pin him down, playing mostly on the left but given license to drift all the way to the opposite flank. Most of his good work is done from the left but it is impossible to man-mark Eden as he will drag your team all out of position.

Although you only get rewarded three points like any other win, derby wins are very important for the team’s morale. Lille keep their four point lead over Paris St-Germain and with Lyon and Rennes both getting beat the gap from third is now seven points.

At the start of the season the thought of Lille winning the league was a dream, now with every win it doesn’t seem as farcical. The goal should still be to qualify for the Champions League…a boy can dream though.

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The new season in France’s Ligue 1 started this week, in anticipation I read many previews telling me who the best teams would be and the dark horses etc, the usual suspects were there, Lyon, Bordeaux and Champions Marseille all favourites for the title, There was a name I kept seeing with the same prediction it worried me, all the previews tipped Rudi Garcia’s Lille for a title push, the outside bet if you will.

All this expectation should be a good thing, If “the experts” believe Les Lillois have the players and management in place to have a real good crack at the Ligue 1 title, then surely there must be something there, from following the team for 6 years now it’s not a position myself or the team are used to being in. Since I started following LOSC back in 2004 I have always viewed them as a team happily performing under the radar, no big flashy signings, a very stable club, developing good young players, European football was the cherry on top.

Not a household name by any means, however 3 Champions League appearances in the past 8 years and some great finishes in Ligue 1 make it hard to fathom that only 10 years ago the club gained promotion to Ligue 1, Bosnian manager took over a club trying to stay afloat in Ligue 2 in 1998, and by 2002 they were finishing 3rd in Ligue 1 a meteoric rise in fortunes for the small northern club.

Claude Puel - The Mastermind

Claude Puel was the man in charge when my affinity began and he had a very good team, with an excellent work ethic, Gregory Tafforeau and Mathieu Chalme were the fullbacks, I really admired Tafforeau, a no-nonsense hardworking fullback with a great left-foot, you could see the potential to be the Captain he became, Chalme I must say looking back never impressed me the way he has at Bordeaux, however he was steady and a decent defender and went about his business, I preferred the now Lazio player Stephane Lichsteiner and was happy when Chalme left to Blanc’s Bordeaux, Stephane impressed with willingness to attack and quality of crosses.

Puel’s team suffered defensively, not a week went by when there wasn’t a Tony Sylva goalkeeping error or Tavlaridis had messed up causing another goal, Vitakic, Rafael and then Plestan were all chosen as Efstathios’s partner and they never looked very solid, but somehow in the 2005/06 season they only conceded 31 goals the same amount as Champions Lyon, and finished 3rd, this was mostly down to the hard work of the midfield. Puel’s team philosophy was based on discipline, effort, and the desire to close the opponent down at all times, the less time they had on the ball, the quicker you could retrieve the ball.

Most games the team was set-up in a 4-5-1 formation with Abdul Kader Keita playing on the right as an advanced midfielder, the mercurial Jean Makoun was the general, alongside him, the long serving Stephane Dumont who was the captain at the time, ex-Tottenham man Milenko Acimovic was the “playmaker” so to speak and on the left was young local boy Mathieu Debuchy; Debuchy, Dumont and Makoun were the ones who pressured the most, and they were backed up by the impressive youngsters Mathieu Bodmer and Yohan Cabaye, this left the trio of Acimovic, Keita and Odemwingie to hit teams on the counter attack.

Peter Odemwingie

This was the team I fell in love with, the duo of Odemwingie and Keita were just breathtaking, I will never forget the first home game of the 2006/07 season what better than a match against your bitter rivals, Lille did not let the home fans down, on a high after the 2-1 away win at Rennes Les Dogues turned on the style, RC Lens were handed a thumping 4-0 defeat, Kader Keita delivering two fantastic crosses for Peter Odemwingie to put away in style, apart from a 3-0 win against Bordeaux the league campaign never got much better than that first home game, a tough Champions League campaign ultimately cost the team dear and Lille finished that season in 10th place. Victory over Milan in the San Siro followed by the high profile 2-0 aggregate defeat by Manchester United was the highlights of Lille’s season.

By the start of the 2007 season it was all change in Lille, Puel was still in charge but the team I knew and loved had been ripped apart 13 players left the Metropole that summer, Odemwingie, Keita, Bodmer. Chalme, Rafael and Tavlaridis the big name departures, in their place brought in was Marko Maric, Franck Beria and Luis Yanes.

As a fan I was gutted, I had planned a trip to Lille in March 2007 to watch them take on Le Mans at the Metropole, only to have the trip cancelled the night before due to a fire at a warehouse in London, all Eurostar trains were cancelled for 24 hours, gone was my chance to see Odemwingie & Co.

It was obvious the intentions of the Lille board, sell the stars and bring in the youth, Only 4 of the players that played in the opening win at Rennes started the first game of the 2007/08 season in a 0-0 draw at home to Lorient, a very frustrating season 18 draws in 38 league games, saw Lille finish in 7th place.

The only bright sparks of the season were the young players coming through, Cabaye, Chedjou, Rami, Mirallas and the exciting Brazilian Michel Bastos.

In 2008 the unthinkable happened the mastermind behind all the success Lille had had Claude Puel left the club, his excellent results with a small club had earned him the job at French Champions Lyon taking with him the philosophy that had led this team to Champions League football, in all fairness he had taken the club as far as he could and you cannot take away the man’s ambition, Jean Makoun followed him to the Stade Gerland, the new Lille era would start without their best player.

Rudi Garcia

Rudi Garcia was man picked to led this young team an ex-Lille player who had performed miracles with a team that had gained promotion to the league in 2004 and he took them to the heady heights of 9th a tremendous achievement, Garcia known for his attacking brand of football, how would a team brought up on a counter-attacking disciplined formation take to a forward thinking coach. Garcia went about bringing his own players in, midfield dynamo Florent Balmont was joined by Ligue 1 veteran Pierre-Alain Frau, striker Tulio De Melo, the permanent signing of Rio Mavuba who had impressed on loan, and increased minutes for young players Emerson, Rami and youth sensation Eden Hazard, the squad looked weak in areas, I had doubt over how they would cope in the 38 game season.

Three games into the season and it wasn’t looking good, a decent draw away at Nancy then a home defeat 3-1 against Le Mans, and an away loss against Rennes by 2 goals to 1, the future did not look bright at all, Garcia then signed Robert Vittek and the formation changed from what was mostly a 4-5-1 to a more attacking version of 4-3-3, Vittek and Hazard began to play more and Lille went on a unbelievable run, in 19 matches they only lost once, conceding 18 goals but scoring 31 they began to create a reputation of being a very dangerous team, scoring the 4th highest amount of goals in the league and finishing an impressive 5th, for a season that started poorly there was many positives to take, Garcia had given Lille an identity again, combining Puel’s high pressure game with an attacking mindset that teams had to be wary of.

The 2009/10 season was met with a mixture of expectation and cautiousness, Rudi Garcia was briefly sacked by the Lille board, only to be brought back in, which could explain why only two players were brought in to strengthen the side, ex-French International Goalkeeper Mickael Landreau and Le Mans winger Gervinho, the former excited me and fellow Lille fans, known for his explosive pace and goal scoring abilities he could form a potent strike force with De Melo and Hazard, Landreau a very experience keeper, brought in to try and sure up a shaky defence, disaster struck in a pre-season training session Landreau ruptured his right knee and wasn’t seen in a Lille jersey until October, a major blow to Rudi Garcia’s plans.

Eden Hazard - The Young Wizard

A very poor start to the season defeats to Lorient, Marseille and PSG in the first 4 games saw Lille with only 1 point out of a possible 12, the first win of the season came at home to Sochaux, Debuchy scoring the only goal of the game, this sparked a fantastic run over 21 games they lost only 3, 14 wins scoring an amazing 46 goals, the catalyst behind the great run were new signing Gervinho with 13 goals, youth sensation Eden Hazard and the goals of ageing striker Pierre-Alain Frau having an Indian Summer to what could only be described as a faltering career 13 goals his biggest haul since 2002, Lille ended the season with 5 wins out of 6, that last win however cost Les Dogues a place in the Champions League, losing out to Auxerre by one point, they finished the season with 72 goals scored more than any other team in the league and 40 goals conceded, only 4 teams conceded fewer, Eden Hazard picked up the award of best young player in Ligue 1 for the second year in a row, more importantly they were amongst the top-tier of French clubs again, their star players linked again with the cream of European Clubs.

In what has been a very slow summer for transfers, Moussa Sow of Rennes has been Lille’s only new signing, this season they will rely heavily on the stars of the last campaign, I would love all the “experts” to be correct and Les Dogues push on and challenge for the title, however with the history the club has you will forgive me if I am very sceptical, Pierre-Alain Frau will not have another 13 goal season, the chances of Tulio De Melo staying fit for a whole year are just as unlikely and with the transfer deadline still 21 days away, somewhere a big name player is going to move, and replacements have to be bought, if Gervinho, Hazard, Rami and Cabaye are all still present at the Metropole come the first of September I will be a very happy fan. Lille are a selling club and you could argue that last season they punched above their weight, Lille have to sell their star players to make money, with the new 50,000 sweater stadium due to be opened in 2012 bills have to be paid, every player not matter the talent has a price.

When you see a team you support constantly linked with having a good season, it puts you on edge, why can’t they just leave us alone, and let a great season happen by surprise, experts, bookies, ex-players the more they mention your chances the more you believe it yourself, only then to be brought crashing back down to earth when you lose 3-0 at home to a relegation candidate, luckily Lille started their season with a good 1-1 draw away at another top tip Stade Rennais, I just hope all the expectation doesn’t turn into a curse, and Rudi Garcia and his men can play to their best, Champions League qualification for me would be a great year.

I was lucky enough to visit Anfield in March and watched my team in the flesh for the first time and just like in 2007 I plan to visit Lille this season and watch a game at the Metropole, not sure who the opponent will be and it doesn’t matter, I will be going to see Hazard, Gervinho, Cabaye & Co. Hoping nothing stops my journey this time, not only because I want to visit the Metropole and sit in the Stade du Nord with the hardcore fans, but I feel that if I don’t visit this year and see the current star players then just like in 2008, 2011 could be the start of another rebuilding job for Rudi Garcia.

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Well 3 good games today, Dark horses Paraguay strengthened their position, Underdogs New Zealand achieved one of the greatest moments in World Cup history, and Brazil tamed Les Elephants and sent out a message, but the day will be overshadowed but the cheat that is Kader Keita, used to like him as a player at Lille, but moments like that need to be stamped out of football, if FIFA do not do the right thing and ban Keita and let Kaka play the organisation as usual will look like a joke, now back to the games.

SLOVAKIA

0

 

PARAGUAY

2

      Enrique VERA (27′)  
      Cristian RIVEROS (86′)  
         
1.Jan MUCHA     1.Justo VILLAR  
2.Peter PEKARIK     3.Claudio MOREL  
3.Martin SKRTEL     6.Carlos BONET  
6.Zdenko STRBA     9.Roque SANTA CRUZ  
7.Vladimir WEISS – Y     13.Enrique VERA – Y OUT – 88
8.Jan KOZAK     14.Paulo DA SILVA  
9.Stanislav SESTAK – Y OUT – 70   15.Victor CACERES  
11.Robert VITTEK     16.Cristian RIVEROS  
16.Jan DURICA – Y     18.Nelson VALDEZ OUT – 68
17.Marek HAMSIK – C     19.Lucas BARRIOS OUT – 82
21.Kornel SALATA OUT – 83   21.Antolin ALCARAZ  
         
Subs     Subs  
13.Filip HOLOSKO IN – 70   17.Aureliano TORRES IN – 68
15.Miroslav STOCH IN – 83   7.Oscar CARDOZO IN – 82
      8.Edgar BARRETO IN – 88

MY THOUGHTS:

Not a bad game to kick off the day, Paraguay looked to get forward at all times, some nice play, loved the fullbacks bombing forward all game, Morel and Bonet worked very hard, never caught out of position and happy to join the attacks, the front three of Santa Cruz, Barrios and Valdez played well, Valdez worked extremely hard never giving the Slovakia defence any time on the ball, Barrios played the target man well, holding up the ball, setting up Vera for the first goal, Santa Cruz looked leggy at times for me, not fit surely, but looked at times to be getting it back, maybe he’ll be up to speed come the knockout stage, Alcaraz in defence was a rock in the back four, nothing got past him, good in the air and on the ground, it looks as if Wigan have found a gem, his partner da Silva although caught out in the air at times, nothing got passed him on the ground and it looks a comfortable duo, the midfield trio of Vera, Caceres and Riveros without having too much flair and creativity showed they work hard and will get forward if they see a gap, proved with Vera’s goal a lovely outside of the boot finish and Riveros shot from the edge of the box had power and accuracy.

Slovakia disappointed again, needing to win to have a chance they showed nothing of an attacking threat Hamsik had been pushed further forward but again he was ineffectual, this cut the supply to Sestak and Vittek, Weiss on the right shows he has pace and skill but doesn’t seem to know how to trouble the opposition, I have to say I was disappointed in Weiss Snr’s tactics in not attacking and then it got to a stage where they had no fight left, and only really troubled Paraguay for 5-10 minutes.

Paraguay have basically qualified for the last 16, and they look as if they still have extra gears to step into, Barrios has more to offer still, Cardozo for me should play instead of Santa Cruz as he is really dangerous, I wouldn’t want to play La Albirroja, Slovakia have a massive mountain to climb to reach the last 16 they need to beat Italy to have a chance, although Italy have not been fantastic they have not been beaten, I don’t fancy the Slovak’s chances.

ITALY

1

 

NEW ZEALAND

1

Vincenzo IAQUINTA (29′ PEN)     Shane SMELTZ (7′)  
         
12.Federico MARCHETTI     1.Mark PASTON  
3.Domenico CRISCITO     3.Tony LOCHHEAD  
4.Giorgio CHIELLINI     4.Winston REID  
5.Fabio CANNAVARO     5.Ivan VICELICH OUT – 81
6.Daniele DE ROSSI     6.Ryan NELSEN  
7.Simone PEPE OUT – 46   7.Simon ELLIOT  
9.Vincenzo IAQUINTA     9.Shane SMELTZ  
11.Alberto GILARDINO OUT – 46   10.Chris KILLEN OUT – 93
15.Claudio MARCHISIO OUT – 61   11.Leo BERTOS  
19.Gianluca ZAMBROTTA     14.Rory FALLON OUT – 63
22.Riccardo MONTOLIVO     19.Tommy SMITH  
         
Subs     Subs  
10.Antonio DI NATALE IN – 46   13.Andy BARRON IN – 93
16.Mauro CAMORANESI IN – 46   20.Chris WOOD IN – 63
20.Giampaolo PAZZINI IN – 61   21.Jeremy CHRISTIE IN – 81

MY THOUGHTS:

What a game, what a result for the All Whites, a great defensive performance for the boys from New Zealand, Ryan Nelsen, Winston Reid and Tommy Smith were heroes this evening the Italians bombarded the All Whites goal but they held strong and with goalkeeper Mark Paston behind them they had a great evening, Bertos ran himself into the ground on the right hand side, Simon Elliott has the conductor in the middle and the brains of the operation. Fallon and Smeltz had a torrid time upfront wrestling with Chellini and Cannavaro a very physical confrontation and they gave as good as the got.

As soon as Italy went behind they picked up the pace and hounded the New Zealand, and probably deserved the equaliser, De Rossi’s shirt being tugged by Tommy Smith in the box and the referee pointed to the spot and Iaquinta made no mistake, however after this, I got a feeling from the Italians that they already thought they were winning, they took their foot off the pedal, Lippi brought on Di Natale and Camoranesi at half time, but they couldn’t find the opening, and apart from long distance shots they never got in behind the All Whites back-line, Gilardino had a shocking game and was hauled off at HT, Iaquinta was decent but couldn’t find an opening, I was surprised Camoranesi didn’t start and again he looked busy when he came on, Marchisio for the second game in a row did nothing, just doesn’t look good enough for me.

New Zealand will play Paraguay in the last game knowing a victory will put them through and in dream land, Paraguay probably the most impressive team in the group will be hard to break down, but no one’s writing off the All Whites, Italy need to beat Slovakia to secure progression and Slovakia will have to play 200 times better to trouble the Italians, and I would expect Lippi’s man to go through.

BRAZIL

3

 

IVORY COAST

1

LUIS FABIANO (25′, 50′)     Didier DROGBA (79′)  
ELANO (62′)        
         
1.Julio CESAR     1.Boubacar BARRY  
2.MAICON     4.Kolo TOURE  
3.LUCIO – C     5.Didier ZOKORA  
4.JUAN     8.Salomon KALOU OUT – 68
5.Felipe MELO     9.Cheik TIOTE – Y  
6.Michel BASTOS     11.Didier DROGBA  
7.ELANO OUT – 67   15.Aruna DINDANE OUT – 54
8.Gilberto SILVA     17.Saika TIENE – Y  
9.Luis FABIANO     19.Yaha TOURE  
10.KAKA – Y/R     20.Guy DEMEL  
11.ROBINHO OUT – 93   21.Emmanuel EBOUE OUT – 72
         
Subs     Subs  
13.Dani ALVES IN – 67   10.GERVINHO IN – 54
18.RAMIRES IN – 93   18.Kader KEITA IN – 68
      13.ROMARIC IN – 72

MY THOUGHTS:

Apart from Luis Fabiano’s goal the first half I thought was awful, Ivory Coast showing nothing of an attacking threat Drogba becoming frustrated, even BBC’s highlights showed 2 clips from the first half. Now he second half had so many talking points, I will not be mentioning the cheat though. Brazil seemed to settle down passing the ball around with control and poise, Luis Fabiano’s second goal although it was hand ball it was a great moment flicked over 2 defenders and fired past Barry, some of the passing moves were breathtaking, and they are warming up nicely.

Robinho was quieter tonight than against Korea, Kaka in the second half got some of his sharpness back, setting up Elano for the third, the defensive duo of Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo were so good, bossing the midfield like experts never looking stretched allowing the free flowing football to open up the Cote D’Ivoire, Luis Fabiano played a good game, playing as the big target man that he didn’t do in the first game and deserved his 2 goals, Maicon has been Brazil’s best player so far, charging down the right, his desire to run at every moment helps Brazil open up the defence.

Brazil have now qualified for the Last 16 and they have lots more to show, another 2 gears perhaps, and I would want to avoid them, problems for Dunga, Elano went off injured, not sure how bad the injury was and if Kaka’s red doesn’t get rescinded, that’s 2 of his midfield gone, this is the kind of Plan B the fans wanted Ronaldinho in the squad for.

Les Elephants were poor this evening, Eriksson brought Drogba in and left off the best player from the first game Gervinho, and they never got going until the 2nd half when Gervinho came on, his willingness to attack defenders at pace cause some problems for the Brazilians and it was his breakaway run then led to Drogba’s goal he laid the ball back the cross came in and Drogba’s run was timed to perfection and he headed what could be an important goal for the Ivory Coast.

Not many more performances to talk about, Drogba was frustrated, Tiene was not as effective on the left, Kalou and Dindane didn’t add anything, Like Capello Sven Goran Eriksson’s substitutions left a lot to be desired, mostly like for like, never at anytime did they show a belief that they could win it and they will need to buck up their ideas when they take on the hardworking Koreans in the last group game.

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