Friday, December 23, 2011

Gazélec Ajaccio 3 at Paris FC 0 - December 17, 2011

Every year, I take one trip with my girlfriend where sports is not the attraction. However, I can usually find one or two games that happen to be taking place in the city we are visiting. Such was the case when we visited France for the past couple of weeks. We spent most of the time driving around the country during a rather quiet sports time, but for two days we were in Paris and I was able to check out a Championat National game with Paris FC hosting Ajaccio GFCO at Stade Charlety.

Championnat National

The Championnat National is the third division in French soccer and features 20 teams scattered throughout the country. The league has only been around since 1993 and consists of professional and semi-pro clubs. The top 3 teams enjoy promotion to Ligue 2 while relegation sees 4 squads relegated to the Championnat de France amateur league, which includes a number of reserve squads from Ligue 1 teams.

The season sees a typical home-and-away round robin making 38 games per team. I was fortunate to arrive in France just before the last day of action before the Christmas break, which traditionally lasts three weeks.

Stade Charléty

Located in the southern regions of the city, Stade Sébastien Charléty is easily accessible by the RER B line from Cité Universitaire station, or by tramway 3. The stadium is generally used for rugby and has hosted some Rugby League World Cup matches (not the much larger Rugby World Cup, which is the union game).

It holds up to 20,000 fans but for Paris FC games it is far too large as only 326 hardy souls showed up for the game I watched, so that only one half of the seating bowl is open. The stadium is part of a larger complex that also hosts a volleyball/basketball court as well as some other sports facilities.

Tickets are 8 euro and you can sit anywhere you want, as long as it is on the west side of the stadium. There are very limited food options; I ordered a Coke and was served some warm pop out of an open bottle. When halftime came, there were a few sandwiches available, but it seemed like half the stadium was in line, so I decided to wait. Frankly, it's better to eat in any sort of restaurant after the game, this is not to be critical but you can't expect much from a sporting event that draws so few fans.

There are two levels here and you can move around with ease. Most of the seating areas are covered so you are protected from the rain.

It's not fair to rate a stadium when it is not being used for its primary purpose; I am sure this would be a good place to watch rugby when it is filled with fans, but on a cold night with so few supporters in the stands, there are probably better places to be in Paris.

The Game

The visitors were Gazélec Football Club Olympique Ajaccio, usually referred to as Ajaccio GFCO, a team from the island of Corsica, most famously known as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. They were champions of one of the groups in the amateur league and hence had been promoted for this season, their first return to National since the 1999-2000 campaign. They entered the match on a 5-game winning streak.

Hosts Paris FC were in Ligue 1 back in 1978-79 but have since spent their time in the lesser leagues in France. Despite this, they have seen some talented players and managers begin their careers here before moving on to bigger things. They entered the game with 7 wins and 7 losses from 17 games to lie mid-table.

The game itself was played on a field that was very slippery as it had been raining in Paris for most of the past couple of days. This didn't stop the visitors from starting strong, as Louis Poggi opened the scoring in the 20th minute, heading the ball home while colliding with the keeper. Poggi celebrated briefly before collapsing at the corner stick, although he was fine shortly thereafter.

Nine minutes later, Roderic Fillippi leapt high off a corner and headed home to give Ajaccio a 2-0 cushion. Fillippi was back on the scoresheet ten minutes after that, getting ejected after garnering his second yellow card.

Paris FC were able to use the extra man to their advantage and began to attack, but Ajaccio keeper Clément Maury was the hero of the game, stopping several point-blank shots. The best save the game saw him getting caught going the wrong way and slipping, only to stretches his arm across his body to knock the ball behind the net, stopping what would have been a sure goal. That's him punching away a kick early in the first half.

Paris FC were continually frustrated by Maury's magic, and Ajaccio clinched the game when substitute Paul Maisonneuve slotted home to complete a 2-on-0 break, helped by a Paris FC defender falling on the slippery turf. The final score of 3-0 matched the temperature which was about 30°F by the time the final whistle blew.

After the game as I left the stadium I noticed a volleyball game happening in the gym next door. It appeared to be a French college game between Paris and Cannes; I watched for a few minutes from outside but as volleyball is not a sport I enjoy, I walked around a bit more.

I noticed that the press box for the soccer stadium was open and went in to take the following picture; I love to see stadiums that are lit up but empty inside.

Not a great game, but a memorable evening as I've got another league in the books.

Next Up

It's 2012 and I've begun planning two major trips. One will see me in Western Canada for the Flames and Oilers hosting the Leafs as well as a trip to Winnipeg to see the new Jets, not to mention several WHL games. Later this year I'll be in Florida for a 3-week jaunt that includes 6 Blue Jays games and the new Marlins ballpark. The schedule will be posted here shortly.

Hope that all my readers have a safe and happy 2012!



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