PSG top Saint-Etienne in French Cup final
Sports Desk, Jul 24 (efe-epa).- Paris Saint-Germain prevailed 1-0 Friday over Saint-Etienne to win the Coupe de France in the country’s first competitive soccer match since the coronavirus forced sports to shut down on March 11.
The contest at the Stade de France in Paris also marked a milestone in the return to some semblance of normal with the presence in the stands of roughly 5,000 spectators, including French President Emmanuel Macron.
While Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s LaLiga, the English Premier League and Italy’s Serie A resumed play after the months-long interruption for the pandemic, all of those games have taken place behind closed doors.
The French top flight, Ligue 1, declared their season over after Macron’s government barred public events until July and PSG took the title for a third straight season and the seventh time in the last eight years.
PSG have now won the Coupe de France 13 times, compared with 10 for the next-most-successful club in the competition, Marseille, and six for their opponents in Friday’s final.
And the Parisians could be hoisting their third trophy of 2020 as early as next Friday, when they will face Lyon in the Coupe de League final.
But an injury to forward Kylian Mbappe during the duel with Saint-Etienne may complicate PSG’s prospects for success in the Champions League, set to resume next month.
The start of play Friday was preceded by a minute of applause to honor the more than 30,000 people killed by Covid-19 in France, as well as the health-care professionals and other essential workers battling the pandemic.
Saint-Etienne, who last reached the final in 1982, made it clear from the start that the match would be hard-fought and they nearly went ahead in the 5th minute on a strike from Denis Bouanga that hit the post.
What turned out to be the game’s only goal materialized nine minutes later, when Neymar scored on the rebound after Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Jessy Moulin stopped the initial shot from Mbappe.
Bouanga tested PSG keeper Keylor Navas on two occasions before Moulin leapt to send an Angel Di Maria effort over the cross-bar.
Saint-Etienne saw their hopes for a comeback dented with the expulsion of captain Loic Perrin for a brutal tackle on Mbappe in the 26th minute.
Mbappe was closing in on Moulin’s goal when Perrin brought him down. The referee initially pulled out a yellow card, but changed it to red after the VAR review, leaving Saint-Etienne to face the remaining 60-plus minutes with 10 men.
The 2018 World Cup-winning France international limped off the pitch and when he reappeared on the touch line in the second half, he was using crutches.
As Mbappe lay on the pitch writhing in pain, his teammates engaged in some angry pushing and shoving with the Saint-Etienne players, prompting the referee to hand out five yellow cards.
Saint-Etienne, who barely avoided relegation from Ligue 1 in the coronavirus-shortened season, pushed hard for an equalizer but never really threatened Navas’ goal.
At the other end of the pitch, Moulin did well to keep the game close with saves against Di Maria, Mauro Icardi and Pablo Sarabia, who replaced the injured Mbappe. EFE