The Coupe de France is unique amongst World Football Competitions. With over 7,000 entries, it is by far the largest of all knock out competitions. The collection of Outre Mer teams playing against those in Metropolitan France from the Seventh round onwards adds another unique aspect to the competition.
But the Coronavirus has left the whole competition in disarray.
It started much as normal back in August, while France was in respite between lockdowns. A Preliminary round and five general rounds were played. There was just one more round to be played with the clubs restricted by regions before the competition went National. Teams from the third level of French Football, the National League, had joined in at the fifth round and the draw was made for the sixth. 124 matches in Metropolitan France.
In the seventh round, the 124 winners were due to be joined from the furthest outliers of the French Outre Mer, with one team each from New Caledonia and Tahiti playing against mainland teams. A change in the rules means that the qualifiers from the other five territories are all paired in this round, with one team each from Mayotte, Reunion, Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana playing in the 8th round. Ligue-2 teams also do not enter this season until the eighth round, with 44 winners from then joining the Ligue-1 teams to make up the 1/32 finals
On the 28th October, President Macron announced the second lockdown, and the suspension of all amateur football for a minimum of four weeks. Now, 12 weeks later it looks as if there may again be some light on the horizon, at least if it is not eclipsed by a new rise in viral numbers.
In the meantime, the French Football Federation has rehashed the competition. They have cut the links between professional and amateur football until the competition is down to 32 teams. Only as the professionals played their 8th round, ten matches involving Ligue-2 teams only, have we been given a possible restart for the amateur levels.
As an aside, while the word amateur is generally used for all French Football below Ligue-2, in reality, the third level, the National League is almost all professional and the majority of teams at National-2 and National-3 level are semi-professional. Even down in the Regional leagues, there will be some teams paying their players. The National League players have been allowed to train and play through the current shutdown, in line with Ligue-1 and Ligue-2, but they are dependent on grants to keep going with all matches being played behind closed doors.
The lower divisions are now again being allowed to train, but the 18.00 curfew has not been changed. It remains to be seen how clubs can arrange this with the majority of the players at this level having a “day job”, as well as their football. On the weekend of 30/31 January the sixth round is due to take place, (with the exception of a small number put back as the fifth-round matches are still outstanding).
Cup matches for the Amateur path are now scheduled for four successive weekends. There should be 124 games (on the mainland) in the sixth round, and 62 in the 7th, 31 in the 8th. Teams from Tahiti and New Caledonia have been quietly told they cannot play. The five outre mer regions, however are still going and in fact are ahead of the curve. They have already played their seventh-round ties, one in each territory. The eighth-round was also kept overseas, with the two Indian Ocean teams, JS Saint-Pierroise (Reunion) and FC Mtsapéré (Mayotte) meeting on Reunion. The Mayotte team won on penalties to become effectively the most successful club ever from this territory. Club Franciscain of Martinique were given a bye in the eighth-round, while US Sinnamary (French Guiana) beat Phare du Canal (Guadeloupe). In the 1/32 finals, FC Mtsapéré will have to play a mainland club while Club Franciscain will travel to French Guiana. The Caribbean match has been scheduled for 31 January.
Summary – what should have been, and what is now planned
|New – Amateur Path
|New – Professional Path
|124 ties in regional draws
|63 ties in national draw including teams from New Caledonia and Tahiti 5 other outre mer territories with one match each
|62 ties in regional draws. No teams from New Caledonia or Tahiti 5 other outre mer territories with one match each
|44 ties, involving 66 winners from round 7, 5 winners from outre mer, and 20 Ligue-2 teams, National draw
|31 ties in regional draws. 2 outre mer ties, (one Caribbean one Indian Ocean – one bye)
|10 ties, involving all 20 Ligue-2 clubs
|9 (or 1/32)
|32 ties, involving 44 winners from Round 8 plus all 20 from Ligue-1
|16 ties, involving the winners from round 8 and Indian Ocean winner. One match in Caribbean
|15 ties, involving ten Ligue-2 survivors and all 20 Ligue – 1 clubs
The need to rush the ties through mean that any team that cannot field a team due to COVID restrictions will have to scratch. Other teams may consider the whole schedule, for matches being played behind closed doors, to be too demanding and just withdraw. All players and officials need to take PCR tests and be shown negative 2-3 days before the game. I have not seen confirmation on who pays for this but I would have thought the financial burdens would be too heavy for many clubs if it fell upon them.
Instead of going national, all of these amateur path matches will be kept within regions, except where odd numbers demands an inter-regional game.
The FFF have done well to rise to the challenge of the problems this season’s competition faces. Never before have they had to contort the competition in such a way to get it played. It remains to be seen if the revisions will solve the problems or not. Whatever happens in the cup, there are also thousands of amateur players hoping to resume their local leagues in the near future.