There'll be a South African flavour to Saturday night's Coupe de la Ligue BKT final in Lille as Lebo Mothiba's Strasbourg take on Lebogang Phiri's Guingamp. Exclusive quotes from the Bafana Bafana stars...
Saturday, March, 30, 2019
Coupe de la Ligue BKT final
Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille
RC Strasbourg Alsace - EA Guingamp
Strasbourg's form has been poor since beating Bordeaux in the semi-finals in January as they have failed to win in seven Ligue 1 Conforama outings, drawing four times and losing three. It means winning a third Coupe de la Ligue trophy, to follow up on successes in 1997 and 2005, is imperative should Thierry Laurey's side wish to play in Europe next season.
Strasbourg's run to the final has been remarkable as they've seen off massive clubs along the way. Lille were first to fall, then came OM and OL, before Stade de la Meinau delighted in a 3-2 home semi-final win over Bordeaux as Laurey's side recovered from falling a goal down with a three-goal burst early in the second half. Ludovic Ajorque equalised and then club top scorer Lebo Mothiba plundered a rapid double.
Speaking to Le Beau Jeu, the official Ligue 1 podcast, just before helping the Bafana Bafana qualify for this summer's Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, the powerful South African international forward said: "It was a special night for all of us, not just for me. Winning a semi-final against Bordeaux, a very good and well-organised team, well it was a difficult game for us but we gave everything and the fans were here for us. We worked hard up until the last minute and we didn't give up on our goal. We won the game. Ludo scored also and I scored and it was a very special night for all of us."
Strasbourg's passionate fans have been through a lot in recent seasons with the club rising from the fifth tier in 2011 to the brink of glory again. Signed from LOSC last summer, Mothiba has been an integral part of Strasboyrg's revival and looks to be hitting form at the right time. Having endured a goal drought following his two goals against Bordeaux, the 23-year-old scored in the 2-2 at Nîmes just before the international break and provided an assist for South Africa against Libya on Sunday.
Mothiba: "Once in a lifetime"
Looking ahead to the final, Mothiba said: "I am very happy because this thing is something that happens once in a lifetime so it's very special and I'm very excited. I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait for the final. Strasbourg fans sing for 90 minutes and this motivates us. I'll be playing at my first home Lille and I can't wait. The fans will come in numbers and it will be exciting. It's like a dream come true. That's why I'm always smiling. I never expected this life. Thanks to God for this life. Every day is just a blessing for me."
On Saturday Mothiba will come up against Phiri, whose style is likened by some seasoned observers of French football to that of World Cup winner Ngolo Kanté. Phiri's Guingamp have required three penalty shootouts to make the final, their hero being Marc-Aurèle Caillard, who came off the bench to star as Guingamp beat Monaco 5-4 in the shootout in the semis.
Phiri, who netted for Guingamp in the shootout, told Le Beau Jeu: "The last game we played in the competition was in January so we've had quite some time to think about playing in the final. We've tried to get some results in the league in the meantime and I think we've been doing exceptionally well given how we started the season. But now all of our focus is on the final and everyone is ready and everybody is focused."
Since the semi-final, Guingamp have risen from bottom of the Ligue 1 Conforama table to 18th, revived under Jocelyn Gourvennec. Reappointed in November 2018, the Brest-born coach has made Guingamp more difficult to beat and inspired them to a win at Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals in January, ensuring someone else would win the trophy for the first time since 2013 when Saint-Etienne beat Rennes in the final.
Phiri: 'Something awesome'
Phiri commented: "It's something awesome to bag as a player to be able to say 'I once played in such a tournament and along the way I got to eliminate great players, big-value players in the world of football and here am I now about to play the final.' It's awesome. South Africans don't get to play in such big tournaments abroad and I'm here to represent as is Lebo as well."
Strasbourg: (to follow)
Guingamp: (to follow)