Late, late goal takes Montpellier through
An Olivier Giroud header three minutes from the end of extra-time took Montpellier into the final of the Coupe de la Ligue at the expense of Paris Saint-Germain after a nervy evening at the Stade de la Mosson.
Tuesday, 18 January
Coupe de la Ligue semi-final
Montpellier Hérault SC 1-0 Paris Saint-Germain (aet)
Giroud converted a fantastic cross from substitute Geoffrey Dernis in trademark fashion just as this first semi-final seemed destined to be decided on penalties. It was his eighth goal since moving to Montpellier from Tours last summer, and undoubtedly his most important as it takes the southern club into their first-ever Coupe de la Ligue final, and their first national final since 1994, when they were beaten by Auxerre in the French Cup showpiece.
This night will not be forgotten in a long time by the home fans that created a raucous atmosphere, or by René Girard, who is on course to win his first major trophy as a coach. However, it was a particularly special occasion for Louis Nicollin, the veteran president of 37 years who has seen the club rise again to heights last reached in the era of Laurent Blanc and Eric Cantona in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It was a deserved win for the home side on the night, as they played with greater energy and desire against a PSG team that started brightly but faded before seeing their chances dealt a fatal blow by the sending-off of Clément Chantôme for a second yellow card two minutes from the end of regulation time.
Paris coach Antoine Kombouaré was determined to take his men through to the final as they arrived in Montpellier still in contention on four fronts this season. He sent out his strongest available side, except in goal where Grégory Coupet was preferred to Apoula Edel.
However, Coupet was troubled on several occasions in the opening half, and after Younès Belhanda failed to convert a fine chance at the end of a move involving Souleymane Camara and Giroud, the former Lyon ‘keeper was forced to turn a Marco Estrada volley around the post.
PSG struggled to cope with the hosts’ direct and aggressive style that was reminiscent of the football they produced throughout last season. They were also unable to relieve the pressure at the back for any length of time, with top scorer Nenê looking surprisingly off-colour wide on the left-hand side, although Guillaume Hoarau did enjoy the last chance of note in the first period, with a shot that fizzed just over after being played in by Christophe Jallet.
There was another scare for the home support shortly after half-time when a Chantôme strike from the edge of the box went narrowly past the post. Kombouaré then withdrew Nenê, throwing on Jérémy Clément in his place, before Hoarau was guilty of another miss, turning a Ludovic Giuly centre over the bar despite being left free inside the area.
The action continued to rage at a searing pace, and Karim Aït-Fana came close twice in quick succession, but there was to be no way through for either side in regulation time. The dismissal of Chantôme appeared to leave the visitors up against it going into the extra period, but the fresh legs of substitute Jean-Eudes Maurice allowed PSG to maintain hope, and after forcing one save out of Pionnier, he provided Hoarau with a gilt-edged chance to break the deadlock. However, once again the big striker missed the target when it seemed easier to score.
Giroud showed him how it should be done at the other end as the hosts made the extra man count, and they then survived a late scare when Maurice turned the ball on to the post with Pionnier beaten.