PSG's 19-year wait for a third title is over
Ten years ago, almost to the day (one day more in fact), Paris Saint-Germain travelled to the Stade Gerland and suffered a 1-0 defeat to Lyon that crowned Les Gones champions for the second time in their history. That was 2003 and their domination of the French domestic scene continued for another five seasons.
Now 2013, PSG's 19-year wait for a third Ligue 1 title came to an end at the home of their old foes on Sunday. Jeremy Menez's 53rd-minute winner was enough for Carlo Ancelotti’s side in a largely unspectacular encounter.
The aesthetics don't matter though, what is most important is that Les Parisiens are champions of France for the first time since 1994 something that despite looking assured weeks ago, had started to look a little less certain with Marseille's improving form. The capital club ground out the result when it really mattered, making up for an unconvincing showing at home to Valenciennes last week with a more impressive showing in the Rhone-Alpes.
The match was a tepid affair and Lyon started the better of the two, looking to exploit the weakness of Nicolas Douchez between the PSG posts, going close early on through Bafetimbi Gomis. Aside from that though, the defensive pairing of Alex and Mamadou Sakho remained relatively unflustered as Les Rouge-et-Bleus grew in confidence and started to dominate the game. The discipline of the ever-dependable Blaise Matuidi was key for Ancelotti's side; the Frenchman paired with Thiago Motta who, though effective, was off the pace and contributed a booking in the first half and little else.
That changed early in the second however, the Italian international was found in space by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the 30-year-old produced an inch-perfect pass that allowed Menez to slide a left-footed finish past stand-in Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes. The Frenchman was PSG's best player on the evening, a constant threat going forward and getting in behind the Lyon backline but also coming back to defend. An early half chance that was well saved by Lopes when Menez almost steered the ball past the OL reserve from a tight angle had only been a taste of things to come. But the match was hardly going to be about style, the result was all that mattered and it is one that will live long in the memories of the players and fans only for the celebrations that followed it.
The side from the capital had to endure a nervy finish after a late penalty claim from Maxime Gonalons, and Menez too had one last late chance before making way for David Beckham in the briefest of cameos. But the result eventually came, though it was never really in doubt after the opener, and Ancelotti’s side saw out the match relatively comfortably. In a nice touch, home grown midfielder Clement Chantome and Sylvain Armand, a league winner with Nantes in 2001, were brought on to savour the club’s first title (of many?) in the Qatar Sports Investments era.
The final whistle sparked wild jubilation and the relief on the players’ faces told you that a serious weight of expectation had been lifted from their shoulders. The past few weeks may have been more stressful than was necessary, but the celebrations have been well deserved. Ancelotti’s future is no clearer to being resolved; his response when questioned on his future by journalists was that he has “not decided yet” and hardly inspires confidence. But for now, the match was only about getting a result and everything else will be put to one side, at least for 24 hours, as the team make their way back to the capital.
A touching scene long after the final whistle at the Stade Gerland was a group of PSG’s French stars staying behind to celebrate the victory long after the fans had gone home. Chantome, Armand, Sakho, Matuidi, Douchez, Kevin Gameiro and Ronan Le Crom all stayed behind to revel in the celebrations. At times overlooked, but never forgotten by the fans, the French contingent appeared the savour the victory more than most. For some, this is either likely a last title of a long career or a first but also possibly a last with the capital club, and it was a poignant scene.
So the wait is over, 19 years of hurt has ended and PSG will return to the capital triumphant to celebrate with their fans at Trocadero on Monday. Over the course of the season, there can be no arguments that Ancelotti’s side have been good value for the title victory. There have been a few slippery moments, and the pursuit has lasted longer than many expected, but the drought is finally over and the club’s motto of ‘dream bigger’ seems fitting at this time. Importantly too, PSG have banished the memories of last season’s final-day defeat to Montpellier in the title race that has spurred them on this time around. Questions over the future will take a backseat, for now, whilst the club revels in a taste of success long overdue.