The European Championships are becoming increasingly imminent, with the forthcoming fixtures signalling an end to the qualifying rounds and subsequently deciding which nations will be attending the 15th installment of the competition.
A record number of 20 teams will be representing their countries next summer, with 53 embarking on the qualifying campaign just over a year ago. UEFA have also sanctioned that a further four will acquire a place within the finals in 2020, when the Championships will roam around the continent to celebrate the 60-year anniversary of the tournament.
With the likes of London, Munich, Rome and other major cities all acquiring the rights to host the Euros in over four years time, the exception of Paris remains profoundly prominent. The French Football Federation decided to withdraw their interest before the bidding process, with the understanding that it could harm their position when trying for 2016.
Preparation for major sporting events draws mixed connotations, with Brazil’s stadia unready just months leading up to last year’s World Cup while Qatar’s construction of their multiple stadiums appears to be proving dangerous for those involved. France however, have managed to assemble four new stadiums, with the help of their respective tenants, and renovate exactly five ahead of next summer. Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain and Saint-Etienne are just a few to have increased their capacity and improved their facilities, something troubling Bourg-en-Bresse Peronnas 01.
Stadium issues fails to trouble newly promoted club
Bourg-en-Bresse achieved promotion from Championnat National last season, much to the surprise of many after a faltering start and a poor end to the season prior. A phenomenal run of games, losing just six times following defeat to Colmar in August, saw them climb the league table and pip Strasbourg to the third automatic promotion spot. Finishing four points off Red Star at the summit of France’s third division, with the best defensive record in the league, such an accomplishment seemed impossible just a few months beforehand.
“Honestly, I didn’t think for one second at the beginning of last season that we could get promoted.” stated Pape Sane. “We had a bad start” he continued, “and I thought it was going be difficult but, when we only had six games left to play, we were still in with contention so we all said that it was possible, that we had to do it. We did do it”
Pape Sane arrived at the Blues this summer, bringing an end to his tenure at Chamois Niortais, following a successful loan spell in eastern France. The forward was influential in his side attaining promotion, winning the French Football Federation’s Championnat National Player of the Season award and scoring 21 league goals in the process. The 23-year-old has enjoyed a blistering start to the current campaign, netting five times in just nine fixtures, and has subsequently earned a call-up to the Senegal national side for the second time. Pape was kind enough to speak to VAVEL about life in Ligue 2.
“Of course it is disappointing not to play at our stadium, we really felt the support towards the end of last season” proclaimed Pape Sane.
Despite president Gilles Garnier preparing for promotion since January of that year, the club’s 4,800 capacity Municipal Stadium did not adhere to Ligue 2 regulations. With work underway to improve the ground, the newly renamed club ply their trade at FC Gueugnon’s Stade Jean-Laville, which has the ability of holding over 16,000 spectators, until further notice.
“For now,” he continued “we’re playing in Gueugnon, around two hours away on the coach, but as you can see there is no influence on the results. However, it is important to have the supporters, it give us more strength, but it’s now more difficult for the public to come.”
Bourg-en-Bresse have improved since shaky start
With uncertainty over the club’s home looming, two successive defeats did not indicate an ideal start for the team. Losses in the form of Le Havre and US Creteil-Lusitanos left the club languishing in 18th, above just Niort and Nimes Olympique in the table. Sane, however, scored in both games and, albeit consolations goals, showcased the newboys would at least remain competitive.
An encounter with Stade Brestois in the Coupe de la Ligue followed, with a chance to obtain a first win of the season. Seizing the lead through Lakdar Boussaha, the opposition took the game to penalties before succumbing to a 3-5 defeat in the shootout. Lift off for Bourg-en-Bresse. Sane told VAVEL: “We lost the two first games but the difference in quality between us and our opponents was hardly noticeable. The first win in Brest gave us confidence and today we’re enjoying the benefits of this result.”
Pape Sane and his team-mates subsequently went eight games unbeaten in all competitions, winning seven before Evian surprisingly ended this ineffable run. Beating the likes of Tours, former Ligue 1 club Sochaux and more recently Stade Lavallois, Herve Della Maggiore has guided his side to third in the table alongside further success in the French edition of the League Cup. Dismissing AS Nancy Lorraine on penalties, scoring all five yet again, has thus set up a tie with Ligue 1's Nantes in the next round.
The club are struggling in France’s top flight, losing three in succession and have scored twice in six fixtures, with an upset a real possibility next month. “We never thought we would be able to reach this round but we played well against Brest and Nancy." said Sane, who converted a penalty in the club’s latest shootout triumph. “If we play seriously in the upcoming fixture, anything is possible.”
The focus, for now, remains on maintaining their current form and securing survival. The club face meetings with Clermont Foot, Nimes Olympique, Nancy and Auxerre in the coming weeks. Both Clermont and Nancy are hot on the heels of their League 2 counterparts, the duo potentially able to leapfrog their rivals in the upcoming fortnight.
Despite Nimes propping up the table and Auxerre struggling, Clermont and Nancy boast two of the best defensive records in the league with the former also harbouring the goalscoring exploits of Famara Diedhiou. His countryman has nine league goals to his name this season, the only player to better Sane’s record, but remains confident of retrieving results against all four sides. “We take on these games with confidence thanks to the previous results.” Said Pape Sane.
“We are getting better, more efficient up front and more resilient defensively. The period before December will be important for the rest of the season. If we are in the top half come 2016, then I believe the aim of avoiding relegation will be reached. It’s really the goal for this season.”
Maintaining the same defensive consistency that helped secure promotion this year has proved difficult, despite conceding seven in eight games. Such a high league position has been earned, arguably, due to the form of their forwards. 14 league goals have been spread between the likes of Sane and Lakdar Boussaha, with the pair sharing responsibilities up front.
The former was often played on the left flank last season, seen cutting inside on his right foot, but the Senegalese has enjoyed success partnering his French counterpart. Sane can also play with his back to goal, showcasing his versatility as either a frontman or a winger, and the forward insists he is willing to play anywhere.
“I think I can play as a striker and a winger. I was played on the flanks when at Colmar and I have no problem with that. However, I feel better as a striker, whether that be alone or alongside a strike partner.” he proclaimed.
Superb form not always the case for Sane
This aforementioned time at Colmar understandably ignites sour memories for a man now enjoying sweet success at his new home. Jettisoned on loan from Niort, the club that gave Sane his first taste of French football, the forward’s confidence remained low and as did his goal tally. Netting just five goals in 30 games in the third tier, a fairy tale move from Africa was not delivering for Sane as it has done for players such as Didier Drogba and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the past.
After such prosperity in his native country, winning three domestic honours and one golden boot, interest followed from US Boulogne before Chamois Niortais won the race for his signature in January 2013. Making seven appearances over the course of the remaining season, their new singing would never don the blue and white shirt again after two successive loan spells.
“When I arrived in France, Niort needed a striker ready to play in Ligue 2 and I was only just arriving.” Explains Pape. I needed to adapt myself in every aspect, including food, weather and I had a lot of things to work on when it comes to football. They we’re expecting too much when I was simply not ready.”
“When I came back from Colmar, I understood that the coach was not counting on me anymore. At the beginning of the season, I saw that it was pointless going back to Niort, the never really believed in me”
International opportunities have arisen
With his move to France yet to materialise, Pape Sane was handed his first appearance for Senegal after such prosperous form in his native country. Travelling to South America to face Chile in an international friendly, Pape Sane was handed a start and immediately repaid the faith shown in him by manager Alain Giresse by scoring within the first 11 minutes of his debut.
Further goalscoring exploits, scoring 27 times in two seasons, earned himself a call-up to the Senegal national team earlier in September, coming on as a substitute in a friendly with South Africa. The country harbour a talented crop of players, including the likes of Premier League stars such as the in form Sadio Mane, Mame Biram Diouf and Pape Souare amongst others, and results mirror the quality they so proudly poses.
Sitting comfortably atop of their qualifying group for the 2017 African Cup of Nations following victories over Burundi and Namibia respectively, the country already look to be improving after a poor showing at the last installment of the competition. Recording just one win against Ghana upon their opening fixture, the nation finished third in Group C after defeat to the impressive Algeria and a draw with South Africa.
Earning 27 minutes in the most recent encounter between the latter, Sane was unable to find the net in an unfortunate 1-0 defeat away from home. Chances were far from plentiful for Sane, although a chance within the dying embers of the match might have salvaged a draw after a stunning Mpho Makola strike opened the scoring.
“I won’t forget the minutes I played against South Africa even though I might have scored.” Explains Sane, who struck the ball straight at the goalkeeper from a tight angle before rifling the ball over the bar in stoppage time. “Every young player dreams of wearing the national jersey one day. Selection did come as a surprise, I did not think it would happen at this moment but it’s an honour to be called up.” he continued.
“We have quality players and we have shown that they can compete with any team, in Africa or even in Europe. If we are focused, we can continue to win. I think it’s a good moment for us, with the group we have. A lot of players play in big leagues around the world so there is not a large contrast with the the likes of Nigeria or Ivory Coast.”
Reluctant to venture an answer when asked how many goals would signify an achievement this season, the future is evidently a sensitive subject for him. Likening himself to Mario Balotelli and looking up to Drogba as a child in Dakar, England provides a potential destination in the distant future but Ligue 1 remains the aim during his time in France.
“I would like to play in Ligue 1 one day, even if I do love the Premier League." Proclaims the Senegalese. “I made the right choice in staying here [at Bourg-en-Bresse] for one more season, even though I do hold contacts with other clubs. I wanted to improve myself step-by-step and cut no corners when it comes to my development. It is up to me to do a good job this season to prove I can play in one either of those two leagues. We will see at the end of the season.”