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Lyon´s big match nerves tested in French football finale – (SN)

SoccerNews in Ligue 1 17 May 2008

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Lyon's big match nerves will be tested to the full on Saturday as they play their final French league match of the season with a seventh successive title at stake.

Lyon lead Bordeaux by two points and both have away trips to Auxerre and Lens respectively and lower down the table there is all to play for with five clubs chasing three European places.

Third-placed Nancy and fourth-placed Marseille, already guaranteed a place in European with at least the UEFA Cup as a safety net, are chasing third place and a third qualifying round spot in the Champions League.

Fifth-placed Lille occupy a UEFA Cup spot but sixth-placed St Etienne and Rennes in seventh could jump into that position should the northerners slip up at Brittany club Lorient.

As for Paris Saint Germain, their topsy-turvy season could come to an anti-climax with relegation just as they are one match away from winning both cup competitions in France.

Paris Saint Germain meet Lyon in the final of the French Cup at the Stade de France on May 24 having already got the better of Lens in the League Cup final in March to qualify for the UEFA Cup.

Yet Paul Le Guen's men, far from having a nerve-free build-up to their next final, must travel to Sochaux on Saturday still in danger of filling the third relegation spot, with Strasbourg and Metz already demoted.

Lyon's French international Jeremy Toulalan said even if they won the French Cup, the season would be considered a failure should they not lift the league trophy.

“This last match has the league title deciding on it and it has been really hard this season,” said Toulalan. “Everyone is determined and relaxed at the same time yet we are used to big matches and we have always delivered when the chips are down.

“Our whole season hangs on this one fixture. If we don't become champions it will have been a bad season regardless of whether we win the French Cup.”

Lyon are virtually at full strength with just one absentee in the suspended Sidney Govou.

Coach Alain Perrin said the final game would be like a cup final.

“The finishing line is approaching and I don't expect Auxerre to just capitulate and I think they will be motivated. We'll need to put in a knockout cup-type performance to avoid a major blow and we must not weaken,” Perrin said.

Lyon were nine points ahead six weeks ago but the tables have turned and Laurent Blanc's Bordeaux, already assured a Champions League group stage berth, now have the chance to end Lyon's championship-winning era.

“It's still in Lyon's hands to be French champions,” said Blanc.

“They remain ahead and even if they aren't as dominant they have a strength in depth which will help them be French champions for the seventh time.

“At least we will have pushed the champions of the last few years who have gotten used to celebrating their titles three, four or five weeks before the end. This year they won't be champions before the final day. Whatever happens we've achieved a wonderful exploit.”

Marseille coach Eric Gerets rated his team's chances of getting the final Champions League spot as 25 percent — Nancy host Rennes and Marseille entertain Strasbourg.

Gerets said though he hoped Marseille would put on a show against Strasbourg, it was the result that mattered. After Thursday training, Gerets said: “If the players want to entertain the crowd they can do so but the result is really the most important thing.

“I'm not sure how (relegated) Strasbourg will approach this game but there is no way I'm going to ring them to tell them to field three strikers! I think we have a 25 percent chance (of finishing third).”

Marseille welcome the return of striker Djibril Cisse, suspended in their trip to Le Mans last weekend though central defender Julien Rodriguez will be absent after ankle surgery and attacking midfielder Mathieu Valbuena was said to be doubtful though Gerets did not specify the reason.

Final French league fixtures

Saturday (all at 1850 GMT)

Auxerre v Lyon, Lens v Bordeaux, Lorient v Lille, Marseille v Strasbourg, Metz v Le Mans, Nancy v Rennes, Nice v Caen, St Etienne v Monaco, Sochaux v Paris Saint Germain, Toulouse v Valenciennes

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