The match that ignites an island
If you're looking for noise, colour and passion this weekend, then the Armand Cesari stadium is the place to be as Bastia host Corsican rivals Ajaccio on Saturday night.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
SC Bastia - AC Ajaccio
Banned from playing at home for five matches in December and January, Bastia returned to a hero's welcome two weeks ago when they hosted Nice, back in front of their adoring fans once more.
"Our fans have been starved of football for three months," said club chairman Julien Lolli before the game. "It may sound strange but this game is a really special occasion."
Bastia out to bounce back
The atmosphere fell flat somewhat when Nice took the lead through their 16-year-old prodigy Neal Maupay before holding on to the secure the three points. Back on the road last weekend, Frederic Hantz's team failed to win for the 6th match running at Troyes, dominating proceedings but failing to find a way past the inspired Yohann Thuram-Ulien.
That goalless draw left Bastia 16th, only four points above the relegation zone, increasing the stakes even further ahead of Saturday's grudge match against Ajaccio.
"We're thinking about it a lot because we suffered a very, very big disappointment with the defeat against Nice," Hantz told beIN Sport. "The big derby is coming now, and it's up to us to make sure this time we don't concede, and we score a goal ourselves."
Ajaccio with form
Ajaccio, however, with the fit-again Adrian Mutu and an in-form Guillermo Ochoa, will be no pushover. They lost for the first time in seven matches against Lille last weekend, but have claimed the notable scalps of Lyon and Bordeaux in recent weeks. Despite beginning the season with a two-point penalty, Ajaccio are 13th in the table, two points better off than their neighbours.
Bastia are the traditional giants in Corsica, having enjoyed 13 seasons in the top tier and having reached a UEFA Cup final back in 1978… but Ajaccio know the gap between the two teams is closing.
"Historically, Bastia are the biggest club on the Island," explained defender Ricardo Faty. "But Ajaccio are starting to show consistency now in Ligue 1, playing well and stringing results together. So it's good, because Ajaccio's rise has evened things out a bit."
Reunited in the top tier for the first time in seven years, the initial meeting between the clubs this season failed to live up to expectations, petering out in to a goalless draw.
The game was also marred by disturbances in the stands and a series of clashes on the pitch. Ajaccio's Corsican-born midfielder Johan Cavalli was at the heart of those scenes, receiving a red card as the battle for local bragging rights got the better of him. Cavalli will be one of a handful of Corsicans playing on Saturday, and he's predicting another hard-fought game.
"Corsicans are very proud people, they show a lot of courage on the pitch," he offered. "They know how to sweat for the cause. Maybe we've lost that a bit in recent times, but it's up to us Corsican players to make the others understand."
Faty says the Corsican players have been talking about this fixture a lot, and not just this week.
"The have been talking to me about this game for a long time," Faty continued. "Everyone is excited about this game, especially the Corsicans. But we'll just quietly go about our preparations."
For Ricardo Faty, there will be the local rivalry to worry about, but also a sibling rivalry. Jacques Faty has just signed for Bastia and is looking for to get one over his little brother, having already beaten him once, when playing for Sochaux against Nantes.
"I'll give him a call this week to see how he's doing," said big brother. "And to tell him that we really want to win this game. We were disappointed with the way we played against Nice, so it's important to win in front of our fans."
A family affair, a Corsican affair… Whatever happens on Saturday, rest assured this normally calm Mediterranean Island will come to life for a couple of hours at least.