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Nantes and Dijon set for unlikely European battle

Publish on 11/04/2018 at 00h00 - S. WILLIS

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FC Nantes welcome Dijon FCO to the Stade de la Beaujoire on Saturday evening with qualification for next season's UEFA Europa League still a distinct possibility for Claudio Ranieiri's Canaries.

 FC Nantes - Dijon FCO 

Nantes occupied fifth - and therefore the Europa League second qualifying round spot - as recently as Week 29, and although they have dropped eight points since, the Bretons remain just three points off Stade Rennais FC, the current incumbents.

Ranieri's side have played significantly better than a draw and two defeats would suggest over their last three games, and they were particularly disappointed to lose to the Italian's former side and Ligue 1 Conforama champions AS Monaco 2-1 last Saturday.

'Defeat hurts'

"The defeat hurts because we were leading and lost the match in the space of three minutes," lamented Ranieri, who has been variously linked with Italy and Olympique Lyonnais in recent weeks. "We played well, but for their goals, [Radamel] Falcao was a little lucky the ball came to him, but it's Falcao, he knows what to do. If it had been another player, it wouldn't have been a goal."

"For the second, we should have been pushing up more on [Rony] Lopes. You must press great players more. But as disappointed as I was with our second half against Saint-Etienne [a 3-0 loss in Week 31], I was happy with the quality of our performance against a very good Monaco side."

New home

Nantes this week revealed the first design sketches for their planned 40,000-capacity YelloPark Stadium, to open 2022, although the chances of Icelandic striker Kolbein Sigthorsson being around long enough to play there would appear to be slim.

The former Ajax man has not turned out for Nantes since August 2016 after a raft of injuries, and his place at his nation's first FIFA World Cup finals in Russia this summer could also be under threat.

Sigthorsson aside, Ranieri should name his favoured first-choice XI against Dijon, with fringe players Joris Kayembe (posterior cruciate ligament) and Kalifa Coulibaly (groin strain) his only other injury concerns.

      Nantes' famous support will have a new stadium to call home in 2022.

Dijon, for their part, are only three points worse off than Nantes ahead of their 550-kilometre journey to the west of France. Olivier Dall'Oglio's troupe make the trip without top scorer Julio Tavares after the 12-goal forward pulled his thigh in last Saturday's 1-0 win at Toulouse FC.

Saïd and Kwon

Such is the form of Wesley Saïd and Kwon Chang-hoon - who got the winner at the Stadium Municipal de Toulouse - that the Reds can be confident of at least testing the division's fifth-meanest defence, though.

"I'm doing well, but that's also because the team's going well," Saïd, scorer of four goals in his last five games, told the Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS recently. "We're getting results away from home so that's rubbing off on the forwards. It's good for me, and the team. Now I have to keep it up!"

At the other end, Dijon are reported to be working hard behind the scenes to keep vice-captain and goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet at the club beyond the end of the season. The 27-year-old's contract is up in the summer, but the fact the club are nearer to the European places than the relegation quagmire plays in their favour.

'Very big step'

"Mathematically, there's a little suspense, but we've taken a very big step towards staying up," said Dall'Oglio after the Toulouse match. "That's what the players think - it was an essential win, earned thanks to the commitment and courage of the players."

Dall'Oglio will have to use all his resource management skills for the final six games of the season if Dijon are to mount an unlikely European challenge of their own. Portuguese midfielder Xeka has a knee injury. He is joined on the sidelines by Mehdi Abeid (shoulder), Florent Balmont (Achilles tendon) and Wesley Lautoa (thigh).


Probable teams:

Nantes: Tatarusanu; Dubois, Carlos, Pallois, Djidji - Girotto, Touré - Iloki, Rongier, Thomasson - Sala

Dijon: Reynet; Rosier, Yambéré, Djilobodji, Haddadi - Kwon, Amalfitano, Marié, Sliti - Saïd, Jeannot