Room for one more

Lille cast doubt on predictions of a two-horse race between super-rich Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco in French Ligue 1.

Last updated: 04 Nov 2013 14:36
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You Lille beauty: Fans and players celebrate a win over Monaco that put them two points behind PSG [Reuters]

Maybe the new age of French football isn’t just about how many Euros the club owners have.

Paris Saint-Germain and their striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who is treated like a Nordic Zinedine Zidane in the capital – are already being referred to as champions-in-waiting after just 12 games.

That wasn’t the case when the season began, with Monaco’s riches under billionaire owner Dmityry Rybolovlev installing them in the eyes of many as PSG's only serious challengers.

Indeed, such are the resources available to the two teams that other fans have been wondering if French football would come to be a two-horse race like the one held by Rangers and Celtic in Scotland for so many years.

Sunday showed that the other clubs are not quite dead yet.

Radamel Falcao, signed by Monaco for around $80 million in the summer, and his teammates fell to their first league defeat of the season with a 2-0 reversal at Lille – a result that puts the northern club above them, behind PSG. Just two points behind, in fact. Not bad.

"We are maybe less strong individually, but we compensate for it with our teamwork," Rene Girard, the Lille coach, said before this match.

A look at the Lille squad list, and then at the Ligue 1 table, confirms the view.

Players like Ivory Coast striker Salomon Kalou, formerly of Chelsea, and Montenegrin Marko Basa, who both played their part in Nolan Roux’s goals against Monaco, are unlikely to make transfer headlines any time soon.

But they’ve helped to get Lille to where they are now, with Basa marshalling the tightest defence in the league. The men from Flanders have conceded just four goals, compared to seven by PSG and 10 by Monaco.

It’s a tally that would undoubtedly be greater if it wasn't for one man who may yet end up wearing the jersey of a bigger club.

African crown

Vincent Enyeama led Nigeria to the Africa Cup of Nations crown in South Africa in February, and made a series of match-changing stops on Sunday.

Falcao must have thought he had equalised with 19 minutes to play as he smashed a shot at goal from close-range, only to be parried by the Nigerian. From the rebound, Lille went upfield to seal the match with Roux's second strike.

The final whistle saw the team link hands and perform a running salute to their fans, who celebrated the win like one of those in 2011 that led to their first title in 57 years.

"It’s a beautiful victory. We didn’t know, like many people, where our level was," Girard told Monday’s L'Equipe.

"And compared to Monaco, a fine team of great quality, we found recompense thanks to our solidarity, our collective spirit – and a bit of talent as well."

The French media used the occasion to look forward to the meeting between PSG and Lille at the Parc des Princes in Paris on December 21.

But is it a potential title-decider?

Lille have proved their worth so far this season. But their goalscorer on Sunday showed more caution afterwards than he did against Monaco’s central defence of Eric Abidal and Ricardo Carvalho.

"We took three points against a great team. That was not easy to do," Roux told L'Equipe.

"What we did on the field was what we do every day in training. I hope it will continue like that, but we must stay humble.

"Monaco will without doubt be above us at the end of the season."

There may have been little doubt of that before, but there is doubt of it now. Ibrahimovic will have taken note.

Paul Rhys is a sports correspondent and presenter writing for Al Jazeera from Paris.

Follow him on @PaulRhys_Sport or go to paulrhys.com.

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.


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