‘Victory for French football’ as fans return and witness 9-0 PSG rout

LE HAVRE • Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) routed second division Le Havre in a friendly on Sunday remarkable not for the 9-0 score, but because it drew the biggest crowd for a match in one of Europe’s “Big Five” football nations since early March.

The French government relaxed the health protocols before the weekend to allow for a total attendance of 5,000, including players, journalists and staff, at games and while the match at Le Havre was not the first to be played, the others involved only lower-division clubs.

For the game at Le Havre, the tickets, priced between €30 (RM145.18) and €60, sold out in six minutes.

“It is a victory for French football, sports in general,” said outgoing Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu who was at the match.

“I am delighted that football in France can resume in a popular way, with more people in the stadiums. It is the only country in western Europe to be able to do this.”

Unlike Germany, England, Italy and Spain, France abandoned its league season in the face of the pandemic, but when the other four countries resumed their leagues, they did so behind closed doors.

Although social-distancing rules were in place, fans took a few liberties once they were in the 25,000-capacity Stade Océane on Sunday.

“It’s a bit like a return to normal life, even if there are some drastic conditions,” said Johan Vattier, president of Les Barbarians Havre, the club’s biggest supporters group.

“We don’t give a damn about PSG, this match is first and foremost a way to get back together with our mates!”

“It’s not easy for a group like ours to enforce the rules because we’re used to cramming together, but we’re going to try to respect them as much as possible,” he added. Alan, 20, a student in Le Havre, who is a PSG fan, said it had been a dream to finally see his team in the flesh and he had not thought about the health risk.

On the field, Neymar and Mauro Icardi each scored twice and Kylian Mbappe once before PSG made 10 changes leading 5-0 at half time.

Pablo Sarabia, with two, Idrissa Gueye and Arnaud Kalimuendo scored in the first 15 minutes of the second half to complete the rout as PSG started to warm up for a busy few weeks in late July and early August.

“We are back! A friendly that feels like a final with a knot in my stomach,” Neymar wrote on Instagram before kick-off.

PSG is due to play Saint-Etienne in the French Cup final on July 24 and Lyon in the French League Cup Final on July 31 before resuming their Champions League campaign away to Atalanta on Aug 12.

Both French finals will be at the 80,000-seat Stade de France in Paris. Maracineanu said the attendance limit will be reviewed on July 18 and will consider adjusting the limit so it is proportional with the size of the stadium. — AFP