AS Nancy vs OGC Nice, Coupe de France Final 1978

Before kick-off a group of dignitaries including President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing are introduced pitchside to the players. The digital copy of an old janky VHS starts just as Nice’s captain Jean-Marc Guillou has gone through his rank and file. Waiting, somewhat impatiently, to take over is Nancy’s 22-year old sensation Michel Platini.

Despite his young age, Platini was not short on experience. Having come through the youth ranks at Nancy, he had been a mainstay in the adult side for more than four seasons by this point. The XI he led out to his first major final was altogether very young: Jean-Claude Cloët was the oldest at just 26, the average age in the side was 22.8.

For contrast, Nice fielded six players 29 or older. And, for the first part of the match, experience seemed to be the deciding factor on the day.

Nice are quick to make an impression. Jean-Noël Huck heaves a first effort at goal within sixty seconds, his shot from 30 yards sailing well high. Le Gym favor their right side of attack, in particular with Huck pushing up from his right central midfield position to overload the wing. While Nenad Bjekovic is deployed predominantly as centre forward, the former Yugoslav international would switch positions with Christian Cappadona. For maximum overload and confusion amongst the Nancy backline, both would, on occasion come over the right wing. The fluid exchanges would continue amongst the forward line all throughout the match, though for the most part between Cappadona and Daniel Sánchez as indicated in the graphic.

Approximate formations and player movements for Nice vs Nancy, May 13th 1978

Approximate formations and player movements for Nice vs Nancy, May 13th 1978

The Lorraine side are there for the taking, if Nice were to pull the trigger. Multiple times even simple throw-ins pose problems for Nancy. One particular example comes six minutes in, Bjekovic and Huck combine, to set the forward on his way towards goal. Even though Nancy have a man advantage, Bjekovic still gets a shot off. It’s not placed well enough to surprise goalkeeper Jean-Michel Moutier.

Carlos Curbelo in turn does manage to catch Moutier off guard moments later. The centre back sends a header back to his goalie who’s not anticipating being called into action. Sánchez tries to capitalize but is whistled off after making contact with Moutier who had gotten a hand on the ball.

While Nancy do seem a bit too laissez-faire against the ball in the early going, both sides in general favour a bend-don’t-break approach to defence. Neither side sit back deep to begin with, but rather than go into tackles, they fall back in numbers. For Nancy that team motion always looks a bit more frantic than it does for Nice.

Curbelo’s tackle on a surging Huck (11’), which sees the French-Argentinian cautioned, isn’t the only last ditch effort put in by the Nancy back-line. The distance between centre and full backs looks too far on either side, which is then compounded by Curbelo dropping behind the line for extra cover. To the point, Curbelo’s partner in the center of defence, Pierre Neubert goes in the book very much the same way Curbelo did. Only this time it was Bjekovic taking it into Nancy’s final third at pace (14’).

Looking for Michel

“Ou est Platini?”, the 46.000 inside Parc des Princes will by now have asked themselves.

Platini, mes amis, is starving up top the Nancy attack. The 22-year old is deployed as centre forward with Olivier Rouyer to his left and Fathi Chebel to his right, in a 4-3-3 system similar to how Nice are shaping up. What Nancy in contrast lack is that interchangeability amongst the forward line. When that lack of movement is accompanied by a slow build up, it will result in full backs taking the ball up the wings themselves and hitting early aimless crosses into the box, looking for Platini. During the first quarter of the match, he has an estimated three touches; one of them a free-kick put into the wall.

Again spacing is the problem. Everybody in Nancy’s attack is lurching around in two horizontal lines. Either the back-line would need to push higher up, into Nice’s half; or, not all of the midfield three can venture into the attacking third. As is, though, passes are played around the defencive perimeter, sloppily so and caught on multiple occasions. Naturally counter attacking opportunities arise with a wide-open midfield and backpedalling Nancy defenders.

Nice’s best chance of the first half comes mid-way through: Nancy’s defence is amassed but not set. Roger Jouve leaves it for Guillou in the middle of the pitch. With a six versus three disadvantage in front of him, the captain threads a pass through the defence for Sanchez, who’s shot is just inches off. Nice are altogether much more imaginative, owing to their movement up top with forwards pulling defenders out of position to open up passing lanes. Nancy don’t even get into the dangerous areas.

Waiting for them there would be Josip Katalinski, Yugoslavia’s POTY 1974. On the day Katalinski is pulling double duty, mopping up behind the defence, as well as providing the first outlet for goalkeeper Dominique Baratelli and building from the back. Katalinski would open play from either wing just inside his own half; spreading the ball around or occasionally taking it up the wing himself.

As the first half closes out flatly it’s quite apparent that these are not the two premier sides of French football at the time. Both finished a good distance from the top in the final Division 1 standing for the 77/78 season, ten and twelve points behind champions Monaco respectively, calculated under the 2pt rule. Nancy came in 6th, Nice 8th, with the latter sporting the third highest total both in goals scored as well as goals conceded.

Michel est arrivé

Nancy finally show a bit of verve coming out of the break. And, most importantly for Nancy, Platini shows a bit of his genius. He only needs a chance and a half to decide the match.

A Chebel cross from the left wing is too short, cleared and put back in. Platini, waiting outside the box with his back toward goal, controls the ball with his chest, flicks the ball over his head as well as over the defence and into the path of Rubio, who is surging into the box… and is called back for offside (51’).

A few minutes later Nice’s is defence clearing out after stifling a Nancy attack. Jacques Perdrieau, from deep on the right wing, hits an early cross, missing everybody. Rubio picks it up far up on the left wing, while the Nice defence is moving back. Platini attacks the space and receives the low pass from Rubio at the near post. Platini is six yards out with his back toward goal, Henri Zambelli on him and seemingly nowhere to go. Zambelli covers the short corner, so Platini turns the long way around. Robert Barraja is coming over to help, but Platini is too quick, shoots with his right foot, places it inside the far post, from where it bounces just right and into the goal.

Upon restart, first things first, Katalinski clobbers into Rouyer.

Nancy are putting everybody on defencive duty, all eleven players are now set up inside 30-35 yards in front of Moutier’s goal. Nice take to spreading play to the wings quickly, with their full backs pushing high up, yet rarely taking towards the goal-line. Rather they would then pull inside and try to get combinations through the middle going. A move that is rarely effective for the sheer amount of legs in that area.

An exception to the rule comes when Sanchez plays a give & go with Guillou, receiving the chipped pass in the box, and is swiftly taken out by a defender throwing himself into the 24-year old. Achille Verbecke does not deem it penalty worthy (62’).

Lively finish

The pace picks up. Bjekovic is at the end of a promising counter attack, cuts inside at the edge of the box, sending his defender to the ground, shifts the ball onto his right foot, but pulls his shot towards the far upper corner just high (69’). On the other end, Platini is pushed off a header. The ball falls to Chebel who takes an acrobatic airborne volley shot that just dips over the bar (70’).

Nice bring on Nabatingue Toko and Jean-Pierre Raczynski for Cappadona and Perdrieau respectively.

Moments after coming on Toko has the equalizer lined up. Guillou came surging into the box, chipped a pass towards Toko who’s completely unmarked, only 5 yards out. The ball comes at an awkward height for the lanky forward, though. And the Chadian international can’t get his header on target (80’).

Mirroring earlier events, a throw-in from the right wing for Nancy now catches the Nice defence off guard. It’s a long throw into the box for Rubio, who lays it across to the unmarked Rouyer. Too many touches on the ball allow Baratelli enough time to deflect the shot against the post, from which it bounces in front of the line and out (82’).

Just two minutes later Chebel finds Rouyer bursting into the box, who then takes it past Zambelli but again dallies too long. Baratelli gets a hand on it. Adding insult to injury, Rouyer is clear through on goal moments later. And is swiftly brought down by Zambelli (85’). Inexplicably this draws only a yellow from Monsieur Verbecke, even though Zambelli was the only defender around and denied Rouyer a clear chance at goal.

A lively closing quarter somewhat redeems the match, but it’s altogether rather a dire affair.


  • Man Of The Match: Platini for scoring the decider. Huck and Katalinski deserve honourable mentions.
  • Best Hair: Not the best bunch to chose from, so Pierre Neubert gets this one.
  • Viewing recommendations: Skip. If you do care to watch, do so for Katalinski in the first half and Platini in the second.

Full match can be found over on footballia, highlights below. If you enjoyed the write-up, please consider giving us a like on Facebook and/or a follow on Twitter so you will be alerted of future installments.

About Sebastian

Sebastian writes and talks about football of all eras in German and English. His series of Retro Match Reports focus on British, German and Italian football history. For YYFP he is currently working his way through the late '70s and early '80s. Follow Sebastian on Twitter: @maltacalcio.

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