Saint-Etienne cling to Champions League hope

Ten-times French champions Saint-Etienne go into their final Ligue 1 match of the season still clinging to an outside hope of qualifying for the Champions League for the first time.

Fourth-placed Saint-Etienne, who were the country's top club in the 1960s and 1970s, visit Lille needing to make up a two-point gap on Olympique Lyon to finish third and book a place in the Champions League qualifying round.

Champions League regulars Lyon, who did not play in the Champions League this season after getting into the knockout stages of Europe's top club competition every year since 2002/03, host mid-table Stade Rennes. They have a worse goal difference than Saint-Etienne and cannot afford to slip up.

Saint-Etienne, where UEFA President Michel Platini spent three seasons of his playing career, have already ended a 32-year trophy drought by winning the League Cup last month.

Under coach Christophe Galtier, who shared the manager of the year award with Paris Saint-Germain's Carlo Ancelotti, the 1976 European Cup runners-up have rediscovered some brilliance on the pitch.

Saint-Etienne were 10th in the table at the winter break but now have the opportunity to finish the season in the top four for the first time since 1987.

"The season has already been beautiful. If we have the luck to win on Sunday, it would be really exceptional," midfielder Fabien Lemoine told reporters.

Galtier, whose work has been praised by Ancelotti himself, has already extended his deal at a club that has enjoyed rare stability and steady improvement after two decades marred by bad management and two relegations to the second-division.

"The coach's deal extension is a very good thing for the club. Since he took charge of the team [in 2010], he managed to create a collective momentum and bring quality to the squad," Lemoine said.

"His work has produced results. We have already won the trophy the club have waited for so long. Now, we face the last challenge in the league."

The League Cup victory secured Saint-Etienne a place in next season's Europa League but they would have to go through the preliminary rounds.

Fourth place would take them straight to the Europa League group stage and third would send them into the third preliminary round of the Champions League.

The task will, however, be hard at Lille, who also have slight hopes of clinching the third spot if they win and Lyon lose at home.

"This is our last chance. We have no right to fail," captain Rio Mavuba told the club's website.

"Let's beat Saint-Etienne first, then we'll see what happens as for the third spot."

While they still can book their place in the lucrative top club's competition, the 2011 champions are also threatened of not playing any European ties next season if sixth-placed Nice get a better result at Ajaccio.

Nice are level on points with Lille but their lower goal difference has prevented them from seeking the third spot.

Champions Paris Saint-Germain travel to mid-table Lorient with the uncertainty over Carlo Ancelotti's situation overshadowing the sporting side.

Fourth-bottom Sochaux, three points ahead of 18th-ranked Troyes, need a draw at Bastia to avoid relegation.


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