Despite falling 1-0 at home to Toulouse in the return leg of their Ligue 1 Uber Eats play-offs tie, FC Nantes maintained their top-flight status on away goals thanks to their 2-1 first-leg win in Toulouse on Thursday.
There were some nervy moments for Nantes when Toulouse's Vakoun Bayo beat Alban Lafont with a sharp downward header at the far post just after the hour-mark, but Les Canaris managed to hold the Ligue 2 BKT upstarts off for an away-goals aggregate win that saw them secure top-flight survival.
Kombouaré: 'We were very scared'
"It's the first time I have been happy after a defeat! The first time that I have had so much emotion, that I have shouted for joy like that," gasped Nantes boss Antoine Kombouaré after the nervy evening at the Stade de la Beaujoire. "We really squeaked through here. We deserved to stay up but we were very scared. We were paralysed by how high the stakes were; we didn't approach the game in the right way."
Indeed, it was Toulouse who made most of the running, particularly in the late stages, but Patrice Garande's side saw their chances sputter when attacking substitute Nathan N'Goumou saw red for a high boot in the area a few minutes from time.
'Survival is the main thing'
Not a resounding result for Nantes but Kombouaré - the club's fourth coach in season 2020-21 - was overjoyed to have completed the mission assigned to him when he signed on in February: beating the drop.
"We don't care! We lost, but survival is the main thing. These players have had an incredible season, so complicated. This is the reward for their self-sacrifice, their work and their talent," said the former Nantes defender who knew he was taking a big risk when taking the reins. "Honestly, if I had listened to a lot of people close to me, I wouldn't have come. It was a choice from the heart - this is my club, to which I owe everything. It was tough for me and for my staff. It was a crazy gamble, and it's a small miracle."
'I just want go home'
What now for Les Canaris, a traditional powerhouse of French football with eight league titles and three Coupes de France in the trophy cabinet?
"Next season, I want to continue, but we must draw conclusions from this catastrophic season, to avoid repeating it. We must learn from our mistakes," said the 57-year-old. "Right now I'm drained and tired. I just want to go home, take a vacation. "