4505: Coupe de France Final Preview:
by : Daniel Law
“McCarthy has worked wonders. No-one expected us to be in this position and I'm amazed how far we've come after starting the season with a team I hardly knew. I went to the pre-season friendly with Villa and couldn't recognise half the squad. I think it would be miraculous to reach the play-off final from where we began, removing Albion would just be a bonus. We’re not ready for the Premiership by a long way, but we'll take it all the same!"
The former Sunderland boss deserves a lot of credit for what he has achieved at Molineux. He has assembled a young squad of hungry players who are willing to die for the club and it’s that work ethic which has got some West Brom fans slightly envious. Cyril Randle, 76, who has been a Baggies fan since 1944, believes they have the much better players, but the spirit in the Wolves camp cannot be underestimated.
“There's no-one in the Wolves team I think we should fear, they are a team, first and foremost, McCarthy has seen to that and must be respected. We have better individual players, of that there is no doubt, but against Barnsley we saw an Albion team too.”
And Rich Jones, 16, concedes that if the Albion had replicated Wolves’ work ethos they would already be planning for life in the Premiership.
“The only thing I would envy at times from the current Wolves squad is the fact that they have a lion’s share of players who have something to prove and will bust a gut week in, week out, to get the chance to play in the Premiership, while we have very few players who are like that. This is no reason to fear Wolves, as we have the quality to easily beat them, but if the players we have consistently cared as much as the Wolves players have we would already be out of this league by now, looking forward to next season in the Premiership and not a play-off campaign.”
Like West Brom, Wolves enter the game full of confidence following their 4-1 win over Leicester City. The Wanderers showed their metal by coming back from a goal down to beat the Foxes in a game that many people feared Wolves might have lost. Mick McCarthy’s men are determined and hard to beat, and with home advantage in their favour, they will be confident of entering the second leg in front.
Sunday’s match is the 153rd meeting between the two sides and the Baggies currently have the edge with 59 wins to their name to Wolves’s 52. Mick McCarthy’s men have lost 3-0 to West Brom twice this season, but they managed to seek revenge in the league return at Molineux by getting the better of them 1-0. However, Wolves fan Andrew Poxton, who has a ticket for the game, is not confident of booking a final spot because of the potent attacking threat that the Baggies possess.
“I haven't been confident all season so this game will be no different! To be honest I'm not confident at all as we have fallen just short so many times in the past 20 years. I think we will win our home game, but only by the odd goal. I'm a bit worried about the return – the thought of their attack against our defence is a concern"
Losing a play-off semi-final is heartbreaking. Losing it to your fiercest rivals is simply unthinkable. Fans on both sides of the divide have stated that they would have rather avoided each other at this stage, but Amanda Hume is pleased to be playing their archrivals.
“We have beaten them twice already this season and even when we lost there we should and could have won. I'd rather play them over two legs than one and I wouldn't have fancied Southampton away. Derby would have been nice, but we'd have had to finish sixth to get them so I'd rather we trounced Barnsley and showed some form.”
However Cyril, who remembers watching the greats Ronnie Allen and Ray Barlow, thinks the clash is worthy of the play-off final itself.
“My own wish was that somehow Wolves would finish sixth, play Derby and beat them and hopefully meet Albion at Wembley. For the Black Country, this is Man United versus Chelsea in the semi-final of the FA Cup equivalent. It should have been the play-off final. We, as an area of tradition-steeped England, deserve no less. Wembley would have heaved with electrostatic energy.”
Tony Mowbray has had his doubters since he arrived from Hibernian, but the majority of fans seem to appreciate his attacking football philosophy. Cyril believes the former Middlesbrough and Celtic defender deserves great praise for sticking to his beliefs.
“One or two moaners have been undermining him on local radio but the vast majority of Albion appreciate what he is trying to do and I for one applaud him for sticking to his 'pure football' ideals. We are now on an up and building confidence again. He was not my choice initially, but once I heard and read his basic ideas, I wanted him to succeed. I had longed for another Ardiles before I got too old to go any more. We now have him. Football should be a game to savour. All the little boys walking home after the Barnsley game were in a seventh heaven, their faces aglow. Never will they forget that day.”
And Amanda insists that whatever happens in the next two, or three, games, the board must back the manager to the hilt.
“I think he has done a good job considering the chairman didn't back him in the January transfer window and allow him to get in the players he needed. It was so shortsighted not to spend say £7 or £8m to get the prize, which was easily within our grasp then. Instead we have had to manage without a midfield maestro and have had players like Ellington and Hartson, who never wanted to be at the club anyway, still not pulling their weight. Even if we go up I think we'll lose Kamara and maybe Koumas and Gera.”
The Premiership is a totally different ball game to the Championship, as both clubs are only too aware of. It takes a different calibre of player to succeed in England’s elite league and Rich Jones believes Mowbray would have to make a few major signings to give them a chance of staying there.
“If we were to go up, we would need to get in one maybe two prolific strikers, because the personnel we have now would not get us 20 goals between us in the Premiership. I think we’d also need to tighten up our defence, bring in a centre back, and definitely a solid central midfielder, to break up play. Aside from that I don’t think anything is really that major, as long as Mowbray sticks with the attacking ethos he has brought to our club from day one.”
However, nobody associated with the Albion is getting ahead of themselves. Everybody knows that Wolves are not going to roll over and die and if the Baggies want to reach the final they are going to have to roll up their sleeves and fight for that right. Cyril believes it will be two hugely entertaining but tense games, but that Albion will just edge it.
“My main wish is for a sensible referee who realises it will be very fraught for about 20 minutes. We want to see 11 versus 11 in both games, then the better team will win over 180 minutes. Wolves have come into form at the right time so, given a good ref, it could be a brilliant advert for Championship football at its best. I try not to forecast Albion matches, I'm too old for that and have watched them too long. However, just for you, I think we'll draw 1-1 at Molineux and win the return leg 2-1.”
Amanda Hume is expecting home advantage to be important in both games and that the Baggies will win the tie at The Hawthorns, while Rich Jones believes that the Albion will come out on top in both legs and meet Southampton in the final.
One Midlands side at least will be walking out at New Wembley and taking part in arguably the most lucrative game of football in the world. Will it be West Brom or will it be Wolves? It could just come down to which Albion team turns upTonight supporters of Olympique Marseille and FC Sochaux will descend on the Stade de France in Paris in the hope of seeing their side victorious in the hotly anticipated final of the Coupe de France.
Marseille will be looking for their first trophy since winning the Champion's League back in 1993. They reached the final of this competition last year only to fall at the final hurdle losing to their most bitter rivals Paris Saint Germain.
In the other corner, Sochaux will go into the final as underdogs having only won the competition once before in 1937. However France's first ever professional team has been a surprise package this year. They are currently fifth in the French league and will be looking to round off a great season by causing an upset tonight. Coached by former Marseille and Portsmouth boss Alain Perrin, Sochaux will be looking to Sebastien Grax and Brazilian Alvaro Santos to get the goals to win the cup.
The two sides last met thirteen days ago at the Stade Velodrome with Marseille coming out on top 4-2. Although past results will count for nothing come kick-off tonight.
Marseille will definitely start the match as favourites to claim their eleventh Coupe de France triumph and you would fancy them by two or three goals. Certainly if Ribery, Nasri and Cisse are given the space and time to play then it is hard to look past a Marseille victory. However it will be an intriguing encounter, particularly if Sochaux grab an early goal.
Probable Teams :
Marseille (4,3,2,1): Carrasso- Beye, Zubar, Rodriguez, Taiwo- Cana, Mbami, Nasri- Ribery, Niang- Cisse.
Sochaux (4,4,2) : Richert- Pichot, Afolabi, N'Daw, Tosic- Pitau, Brunel, Leroy, Ziani- Santos, Grax.