MONTBELIARD, FRANCE (AFP) – The magical run by minnows Belfort in the French Cup came to an end at the quarter-final stage on Tuesday after a 3-0 home defeat to holders Rennes.
The fourth division side were applauded off the pitch at a packed Stade Auguste Bonal, the home of Ligue 2 side Sochaux, after a thrilling cup run which saw them knock out Champions League-chasing Montpellier in the previous round.
Rennes are third in Ligue 1 and hoping to qualify for Europe’s top competition next season, but that didn’t stop Belfort from pushing them all the way – so much so that Rennes players gave their amateur opponents a guard of honour at the end of the match.
“We have no regrets,” said Belfort coach Anthony Hacquard. “We’re truly amateur so we’re just proud to have been there. To see all these people coming to the stadium makes us proud.”
A first half strike by Raphinha, an M’Baye Niang spot kick 16 minutes from the end and Jordan Siebatcheu’s counter-attack finish in stoppage time did for Belfort.
The score would however have been bigger had Belfort goalkeeper Eddy Ehlinger not pulled off some magnificent saves in the second half.
Just 18-years-old and already a penalty shoot-out hero against Montpellier, Ehlinger kept the deficit at one goal midway through the second half with two magnificent one-on-one saves from Adrien Hunou
and Niang, but could do nothing to stop Rennes making it two from the subse-quent corner.
Yannick Konki got his hand to a shot, allowing Senegal international Niang to make amends from the spot for his miss seconds earlier and ensured Rennes moves on to the semis.
Belfort continued to push for a goal as the enthusiastic home crowd cheered them on, but Rennes threatened on the break and Ehlinger denied Hunou again with 10 minutes left with a superb stop from point- blank range.
However Siebatcheu made the scoreline more flattering for Rennes a minute into added time, meeting Raphinha’s low pass with a calm finish.
Epinal, another fourth-tier team who saw off Lille in the last 16, have the chance to take amateur football to the semis when they host Saint-Etienne today.
Yesterday saw two all-Ligue 1 encounters, with Dijon awaiting the visit of Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon coach Rudi Garcia facing his old team Marseille in the other last eight tie.