Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The champions are champions, but rivals were not to be discarded easily. Saint Etienne had mediocre season. Well, mediocre by their own standards – they finished 5th, unlikely place for a team almost winning the European Champions Cup in 1976. Very likely they aimed to do better in Europe in 1976-77, but it was too much – playing at three fronts was a heavy toll, and eventually the domestic championship was sacrificed. Or, it was not up to Saint Etienne to win everything... they failed in Europe as well and at the end were to save grace in the French Cup tournament. May be that, for they reached the final.

Where were to meet a team of past fame – Reims. Stade de Reims was everybody's talk back in the 1950s, but eventually the club faded away. By 1976 only memories of Raymond Kopa, Just Fontaine, Jean Vincent, Robert Jonquet, and Dominique Colonna, and Roger Piantoni gave comfort to the fans. Great past and mediocre present – Reims were mid-table club for quite a long time already. They finished 11th in 1976-77 championship, very familiar and normal place already... but clubs with glorious past try to come back. Stade de Reims was no exception – they recruited Carlos Bianchi a few years back. The Argentine was lethal – once again he was the best goalscorer of the championship with impressive 28 goals. But he was practically alone and obviously not enough for revival. Cup final was the best Reims capable of. Once reaching the final, why not going all the way?

They did, according to what they had – the team fought well against St. Etienne, but lost. It was honourable loss – 1-2 – but who cares for mere finalists?

Top, from left : Flamion (coach), Ducuing, Durand, Martinot, Masclaux, Aubour, Laraignée.
Bottom : Schaller, Santamaria, Bianchi, Simon, Bonnec, Ravier.

Not exactly the team to bring trophies – Bianchi is the only great name here. Reims were dwarfs in contrast to St. Etienne and reaching the final seemed to be superhuman effort for these squad. At the end, it was back to normal...

Second row: Herbin (coach), Curkovic, Piazza, Merchadier, Larios, Bathenay, Balducchi, Farison, Lopez, Santini, Dugalic.
First row : Fournier, Repellini, H. Revelli, P. Revelli, Larqué, Rocheteau, Vésir, Boury, Sarramagna, Brun.

No contest... 15 former, current, and future national team players of three countries versus Carlos Bianchi. Yet, it was contest and quite difficult at that. St. Etienne managed squeezing victory by measly one goal difference. It was little consolation for the boys in green – their single trophy of this season. A season, which was predicted to be entirely theirs not only in France... but they slipped to 5th place in France and were eliminated at the ¼ finals of the European Champions Cup. Barely won the French Cup, but at least they won it.