Skip to main content

Love and romance flourish in France as Valentine's Day comes early for Epinal

By James Masters. CNN
January 7, 2013 -- Updated 1530 GMT (2330 HKT)
Epinal supporters celebrated with their players following the shock penalty shootout victory over cup holder Lyon following a pulsating 3-3 draw. Lyon is second in Ligue 1, level on points with Paris Saint-Germain at the top. Epinal supporters celebrated with their players following the shock penalty shootout victory over cup holder Lyon following a pulsating 3-3 draw. Lyon is second in Ligue 1, level on points with Paris Saint-Germain at the top.
HIDE CAPTION
Joie de vivre
Mighty minnows
Champagne time
Taking down the giant
Boubaya brilliance
Lethal Lisandro
Focki fights back
Robin to the rescue
Party time
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Epinal of the third tier of French football defeated cup holder Lyon
  • Home side won 4-2 on penalties after tie had finished 3-3 after extra-time
  • Lyon, seven-time league champion and second in Ligue 1, shocked by result
  • Epinal made up of amateur football players and are 19th out of 20 in its division

(CNN) -- There are few places in the world which can claim to be more romantic than Paris.

A glance across the River Seine, a walk though the Jardin des Tuileries hand in hand with a loved one, 37 bridges to pause and take a breath at the beauty of an enchanting city.

Artists sitting at every corner beckoning you for a portrait, the music which fills the air, the sheer smell of history which touches every sinew.

There are the book markets which entice you with that precious thought of sipping a coffee at a trendy cafe, while you sit engrossed in a work of literary art.

Tourists flock from around the world to see the Eiffel Tower, to take in the Haussman renovation and to bend down on one knee and ask that question.

There's the Pont Alexandre III bridge, linking Les Invalides where Napoleon is buried, right through to Le Grand Palais and the shopping heaven of the Champs-Elysees.

Speaking out against racism in football
Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente has opened talks with Juventus over a move to the Italian champions. The Spanish international will be free to move clubs when his contract expires in June. Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente has opened talks with Juventus over a move to the Italian champions. The Spanish international will be free to move clubs when his contract expires in June.
Juve long for Llorente
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
>
>>
January transfer window 2013 January transfer window 2013
In the absence of suspended skipper Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel captained Manchester United to European Champions League glory in 1999. United trailed Bayern Munich 1-0 heading into the 90th minute, but stunned the Germans by scoring twice in a matter of minutes to seal a famous 2-1 success. The win completed an historic Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup treble. In the absence of suspended skipper Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel captained Manchester United to European Champions League glory in 1999. United trailed Bayern Munich 1-0 heading into the 90th minute, but stunned the Germans by scoring twice in a matter of minutes to seal a famous 2-1 success. The win completed an historic Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup treble.
Great Dane
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
Schmeichel\'s Champions League tips Schmeichel's Champions League tips

Don't forget the Pont Des Arts, allowing you to walk between Louvre and the 6th Arrondissement without the constant noise of traffic. Why not stay a while? Enjoy a fine bottle of wine, a picnic perhaps?

Or maybe you'd rather save yourself for a jaunt across the Pont Neuf and steal a kiss?

This is Paris, the romantic capital of France and perhaps the world.

But on Sunday January 6 2013, Paris surrendered its crown, or at least for a few hours temporarily.

Away from the boutiques, the patisseries, the artists of Montmartre, Paris had been eclipsed by a group of men, who have taken the whole notion of romance to a new level.

Step forward the brave and hardy souls of Epinal.

In a small and sleepy town in the north-east of the country, around 311 kilometers from the capital, something has stirred.

There are no candle lit dinners or boutique bistros, instead it is a place known for three things -- the cold, the Epinal print and now, at last, its football team.

It was here that the romance of the French domestic Cup was realized, not through poetry, painting or drama. This grew out of passion.

Epinal, a third-tier side, which sits 19th out of 20 teams in its division, had dreamed of this day for many a year although that dream was tempered with more than a hint of apprehension.

The arrival of cup holder Lyon and its millionaire football players would have left even the most rose tinted of Epinal supporters reaching for a nice bottle of rouge.

Lyon, the seven-time league champion, a team playing at the pinnacle of European football in the Champions League, arrived at Stade de la Colombière second in the top division.

After holding a training camp in the luxurious surrounding of Monaco and all the glitz and glamor that goes with it, this game was supposed to ease the team back into the routine following the winter break.

Schmeichel: Spain has best national team
Substitute Robin van Persie (L) celebrates after sealing Manchester United's 2-0 win over with West Brom, scoring his 14th league goal this season. Substitute Robin van Persie (L) celebrates after sealing Manchester United's 2-0 win over with West Brom, scoring his 14th league goal this season.
Dutch delight
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
Man Utd seven clear going into 2013 Man Utd seven clear going into 2013
Patrice Evra gave Manchester United a 16th minute lead at Swansea after heading home Robin van Persie's corner. Patrice Evra gave Manchester United a 16th minute lead at Swansea after heading home Robin van Persie's corner.
Perfect for Patrice
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
Stylish Swans hold United Stylish Swans hold United

While Lyon's players have been busy wiping the sweat from their brow and basking in the exotic temperatures of the Principality, Epinal's players were trying to fit the rigors of training into everyday life.

Epinal is an amateur team, its players work in all sections of society and train when their jobs allow. It is not the life their opponent endures.

For once, work took a back seat as the romance of the cup swept across the town and those who live there.

As the two teams took to the field, the millionaire international footballers of Lyon and the dreamers of Epinal, what chance would the home side have afforded themselves?

French football has seen fairy tales in the past. Only last season, Quevilly of the third tier reached the final where it was beaten narrowly by Lyon.

In 2009, Guingamp of the second division, defeated Stade Rennais, while other teams outside the top flight such as Chateauroux, Amiens, Calais and Sedan have all reached the final in recent time.

"There is always a story every year," French football expert Philipe Auclair told CNN.

"We had Quevilly last year which was a wonderful story and then in previous years we've had Calais and others.

"There are a lot more upsets in the French Cup, but this one is absolutely huge."

Huge indeed. It took the amateurs of Epinal just 13 minutes to move into a two-goal lead thanks to Tristan Boubaya.

His double strike allowed not just a town, but an entire country to dream.

This was the day when Epinal allowed France to fall in love with another minnow.

Like any romance, there are rocky moments. Two of those came within the next seven minutes as Lyon drew level.

The dream looked like it had died when Lisandro Lopez converted a penalty to leave Epinal's hopes in tatters with just 28 minutes remaining.

Not since the 18th century had so many printing presses been ready to illustrate the efforts of Epinal.

Famed for its printing cards of saints, wars and fairy tales, the town was about to receive a new legend to add to the list.

Step forward Valentin Focki. It was he who scored a precious equalizer with 13 minutes remaining to take the tie into extra-time and eventually came penalties.

And so it came down to the dreaded spot kicks. Many a man has crumbled under the pressure of trying to beat a goalkeeper from 12-yards.

Far greater players than those of Epinel have lost their nerve and fallen into the abyss.

But in Olivier Robin, Epinal had its hero. The goalkeeper ensured his face will be forever remembered on a picture card, saving a penalty to help bring down the might of Lyon.

Who said romance was dead?

"It's a really big shock," Damien Comolli, former Director of Football at AS Monaco, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham told CNN.

"Lyon has been playing very well this season and it's the first really big negative result they've had all season.

"The league title is almost guaranteed to Paris Saint-Germain and there are only a couple of other trophies for other teams to win.

"Lyon wanted to win this cup and for them to lose is a huge blow, it's a massive shock.

"Epinal are part-time and have jobs which allow them to train, they're a small team. Now, the focus on the club will be huge."

While Epinal's players bask in the limelight of its victory, it's unlikely that the town will rival Paris for romance in the long term.

The romance of the Coupe de France has been rekindled in a quiet town in the east of the country. For now, let Epinal have its day.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
The U.S. government recognizes Kosovo, as do most European states, but getting football's ruling bodies to play ball has proved harder.
June 4, 2014 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
National heroes don't always belong to one country. Ask France's World Cup hero Patrick Vieira, who is rediscovering his roots.
CNN's John Sinnott on the quiet Cambridge graduate behind Liverpool's resurgent campaign.
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
They are the dispossessed -- stateless, and unrecognized by football's ruling body. But these teams will still play at their own World Cup.
Louis van Gaal will be a perfect fit for Manchester United the club, business and brand, says CNN's Patrick Snell.
May 19, 2014 -- Updated 1924 GMT (0324 HKT)
There's a new force in Spanish football -- and Atletico Madrid's ascendance is sharply contrasted by the fall from power of Barcelona.
May 13, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Rubber bullets, drones and FBI-trained riot police. Welcome to Brazil's 2014 World Cup -- will protests overshadow football's showpiece event?
May 9, 2014 -- Updated 1318 GMT (2118 HKT)
The former England international, who famously kicked a banana off the pitch 27 years ago, says education is the key to tackling racism.
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Of course not. But former Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed seems to think the removal of Michael Jackson's statue was a very "bad" idea.
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 01: Neymar of Barcelona celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on April 1, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
The Brazilian star's first season in Spain may have spluttered along, but the 22-year-old says he'll be firing on all cylinders at the World Cup.
April 30, 2014 -- Updated 1715 GMT (0115 HKT)
Former Soviet footballer Sergei Baltacha traveled from the land of the hammer and sickle to join The Tractor Boys and in doing so broke new ground.
April 29, 2014 -- Updated 0931 GMT (1731 HKT)
Brazil's Dani Alves arrived at Barcelona from Sevilla in 2008 and he has gone on to make over 180 appearances for the club.
Villarreal football supporter who threw a banana at Barcelona's Dani Alves during league match handed a life ban by the La Liga club.
ADVERTISEMENT