THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Strasbourg, Amiens, Troyes, Lens, Brest and Nîmes are separated by just three points in France’s second division, leaving all the play for

18 May ~ The final day of the Ligue 2 season takes place on Friday night with six teams still in with a chance of winning promotion. From the top down, Strasbourg, Amiens, Troyes, Lens, Brest and Nîmes are separated by just three points and there’s little variation in goal difference, either – the range is from +10 to +17. None of six has been promoted yet, meaning everything will be decided after the games kick off at 8.30pm local time.

A crowd of close to 29,000 is expected at Strasbourg’s Stade de la Meinau, with the locals hoping to see the Alsatians crowned champions. One point ahead of the chasing pack, Thierry Laurey’s hosts are a smart bet to get the job done as visitors Bourg Péronnas (14th) have nothing to play for. Strasbourg’s home record also suggests there will be no slip-ups – they’ve won ten of their last 11 home fixtures in a remarkable streak of form stretching back to last November, scoring 28 goals in the process.

Like Strasbourg, second-place Amiens won promotion back to Ligue 2 from National (France’s third division) only 12 months ago. A remarkably high number of teams have achieved successive promotions from National to Ligue 1 over the past decade. With Strasbourg and Amiens occupying the top two positions it looks as though at least one team will secure back-to-back promotions this time around as well.

The team that will be most disappointed with the state of play ahead of the final game will be Brest. In the top three for 32 of the 37 matchdays to date, they led the table for 11 consecutive weeks from late December until March but recently dropped out of the top three for the first time since mid-September after a run of three straight defeats against promotion rivals Amiens, Strasbourg and Nîmes. Manager Jean-Marc Furlan had stressed all season that he suspected his team would not be able to last the distance. Whether he meant what he said or was bluffing, his concerns have proved prescient.

The inquest should Brest miss out would be as nothing compared to that which will take place at Lens should they suffer a similar fate. Ligue 2’s biggest club, Lens had set their hearts on a return to the top flight after two seasons away. New owners have provided stability following the madness of the Hafiz Mammadov era – the Azerbaijani businessman, in charge from 2013 to 2016, would often go AWOL for months at a time, leaving bills unpaid.

As usual, Lens’ supporters, the best in the land, have turned out in force, with the club’s average home attendance of 28,512 better than all but four clubs (Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille, Lyon and Lille) in Ligue 1. Yet it’s points dropped at home that mean the Sang et Or (Blood and Golds) now have to rely on other teams making mistakes: they’ve picked up only four points from their last four fixtures at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, some of their players appearing petrified as the finishing line came into sight.

An extra element of intrigue has been added this season via the introduction of play-offs. Instead of three teams automatically winning promotion into France’s top flight, the third-placed team will now face-off over two legs (May 25 and 28) against the team who finish 18th in Ligue 1. With relegation matters in Ligue 1 undecided heading into the final round of games in that division on Saturday night, it promises to be a dramatically thrilling couple of days in France. James Eastham

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