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Lens poised for long-awaited Champions League return

Lens poised for long-awaited Champions League return

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Ligue 1 - Stade Rennes v RC Lens - Roazhon Park, Rennes, France - April 1, 2023 RC Lens fans wave flags and display a banner during the match REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

The Bollaert-Delelis stadium will come to the boil on Saturday with RC Lens poised to clinch second place in Ligue 1 and with it their first ticket to the Champions League group phase in 21 years.

Victory against an already-relegated AC Ajaccio would ensure Lens a top-two finish which brings an automatic spot in Europe's elite club competition.

With two games left the title is virtually out of reach with Paris St Germain leading by six points and with a much better goal difference, but Olympique de Marseille trail Lens by five points and could steal second place if 'Les Sang et Or' slip up.

Franck Haise's team, assembled with the league's 10th biggest budget of 62 million euros ($68.25 million), rarely disappoint the home fans though, having taking 49 points from a possible 54 on their own patch.

With a close relationship to their fans and a squad punching above their weight in the French top flight, Lens have also drawn comparisons to the fictional AFC Richmond side from TV show 'Ted Lasso'.

"There's a lot of energy and excitement in the dressing room but that's nothing new," said Haise, who will be without suspended wing back Przemyslaw Frankowski on Saturday but will welcome defender Kevin Danso back to the side.

While the crowd will greet the side with a rendition of the spine-chilling 'Les Corons' - a 1980s French hit paying tribute to the miners of northern France - there are no post-game celebrations planned, officially.

"There is no euphoria," said attacking midfielder Florian Sotoca.

"I found the team very calm. We've only lost four games this season. We deserve to live these moments, it's every player's dream."

After winning their only French title in 1997-98, Lens entered the Champions League the following season, beating Arsenal at Wembley in a group fixture.

They know they are within touching distance of the competition once again but are taking nothing for granted.

"We have enough experience to know that it will be hard if we don't respect our opponents. Staying at the highest level for so long is new to us," said Sotoca.

"It's exhausting. It will be a great moment with our fans but we have not been talking about celebrations. We are not in the Champions League yet."

PSG travel to Racing Strasbourg and will clinch a record-breaking 11th title if they avoid defeat, while the fight for European places sees fourth-placed Monaco, on 65 points, travel to Stade Rennais, who are sixth and three points behind.

Fifth-placed Lille (63 points) host Nantes, who are fighting for their survival. The Canaries are 17th and a point away from safety.

A place above them, AJ Auxerre travel to 13th placed Toulouse, who have little to play for and have already qualified for the Europa League by winning the French Cup.

($1 = 0.9084 euros)

Source: Reuters


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