RC Strasbourg Alsace's fairy-tale Coupe de la Ligue run culminated with a hard-fought penalty shoot-out win over EA Guingamp in the showpiece in Lille on Saturday.
RC Strasbourg Alsace 0-0 EA Guingamp (Strasbourg win 4-1 on penalties)
Arsene Wenger and Didier Drogba were among the luminaries of the game in attendance for the Coupe de la Ligue final, while a 15,000-strong Guingamp support made the trip from Brittany to Lille. It was they who were the first to be lifted off their seats at LOSC's Stade Pierre-Mauroy, with Marcus Thuram twisting and turning past Lamine Koné on the left flank before forcing Bingourou Kamara into a save from a tight angle (20'). Guingamp were on the front foot for most of the first half and Nicolas Benezet - a scorer in each of the last two meetings between the sides - tried to extend his run against Le Racing with a free-kick, but his effort sailed off target (27'). Ludovic Blas was the next to try his luck, cutting inside from the right wing and letting fly, but Kamara saved with his legs (28'). Strasbourg absorbing such pressure seemed not to be quite such an accident towards the end of the half, though. Thierry Laurey's men, lining up in a 5-3-2 against Guingamp's 4-3-3, began to find gaps on the counter and Adrien Thomasson was clean through for a chance before Kamara's opposite number Marc-Aurèle Caillard raced off his line to quell the danger (41'). Ibrahima Sissoko then fired high from the edge of the Guingamp box (43') and the side´s went in for the break with the deadlock intact.
The pendulum continued to swing in Strasbourg's favour after the restart, and they were desperately unlucky not to make it 1-0 when Sissoko cut the ball back for Thomasson only for the midfielder's volley to fly just wide of the far post (59'). Thierry Laurey's side continued to pour on the pressure and Ludovic Ajorque hit a fizzing left-footed free-kick into almost exactly the same spot of the advertising billboard as Thomasson had done minutes earlier (64') as Guingamp held on. Guingamp striker Nolan Roux was replaced by Alexandre Mendy after taking a Stefan Mitrovic elbow to the face (67'), and the on loan Girondins de Bordeaux man wasted little time in making his presence felt, racing onto a Blas pass and blazing an effort the wrong side of the near post (74'). Thuram then had a gilt-edged chance to give the Bretons the lead when he peeled off his marker to meet Blas' cross, but he was off balance and sent it high and wide (77'). Another cross from the right sailed over the young forward's head (79'). Ajorque headed another effort over at the other end (84') and referee Benoît Millot's whistle went with extra-time, and potentially penalties, still needed to separate the sides.
Adrenalin coursing through their veins, neither team slowed down once extra-time got underway. Sanjin Prcic came close to scoring (95') and assisting (96') in quick succession, but the Bosnia-Herzegovina midfielder fired wide before seeing Nuno Da Costa's effort blocked by fellow late substitute Ronny Rodelin. Mendy forced his way into the Strasbourg box at the death but Kamara denied him at close range (120') and it went to penalties: cue Kamara's chance to shine further
Prcic, Thomasson, Dimitri Liénard - with a cocky chip - and Lionel Carole were on target for Strasbourg, but Kamara's save from Ronny Rodelin with the penultimate penalty means the youngster will rightfully get his share of the headlines as Strasbourg celebrate a famous victory.
THE PLAYER: Bingourou Kamara
Kamara has yet to start a game in Ligue 1 Conforama this season, with Matz Sels trusted with first-team duties, but the 22-year-old has been blooded in the cup and kept his place for the final, and deservedly so. The former France U21 man made six stops from open play, and wrote his name into Strasbourg's history books with a penalty shoot-out performance for the ages.
THE STAT: 3
This was Strasbourg's third Coupe de la Ligue triumph, having lifted the cup in 1997 and again in 2005, each time under coach Jacky Duguépéroux. A former giant of the French game, this was Le Racing's 12th major title in all.