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French soccer returns as PSG win bad-tempered Coupe de France final

French soccer returns as PSG win bad-tempered Coupe de France final

The long-awaited return of competitive football in France was marred by a tackle that led to a first-half brawl and the early exit of an injured Kylian Mbappe.

Paris Saint-Germain beat Saint-Etienne 1-0 in Friday’s Coupe de France final thanks to a 14th-minute Neymar goal. However, the scenes that followed Loic Perrin’s flying challenge on Mbappe tarnished what was meant to be an uplifting occasion for the country.

The cup showpiece was France’s first official football match since action was suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ligue 1 was then canceled on April 28, with PSG – who were 12 points clear in first place when play was halted – being named league champions.

Fewer than 5,000 supporters were permitted entry to the 80,000-capacity stadium for the match as the country continues to implement crowd restrictions amid the crisis. Among those taking in the action were president Emmanuel Macron and other dignitaries from French politics and sports.

Saint-Etienne’s Deni Bouanga hit the post early in the tie but PSG took the lead with their first meaningful attack of the game.

Mbappe exchanged passes with Angel Di Maria before surging through Les Verts’ backline. The French forward’s shot was parried by Jessy Moulin and the rebound was smashed in by Neymar.

GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP / Getty

Bouanga continued to be Saint-Etienne’s likeliest source of a goal, but his team’s chances were suddenly bleaker when Perrin was dismissed in what is expected to be his final match before retirement.

The veteran launched himself into a challenge with Mbappe, and though referee Amaury Delerue initially showed Perrin a yellow card, the punishment was upped to a red following video review. A series of cautions were handed out in the aftermath of the tackle, including one for Marco Verratti for his impassioned complaints from the bench.

Saint-Etienne fought valiantly for the rest of the contest and threatened PSG twice in the closing stages when they won free-kicks in encouraging positions. Wahbi Khazri wasn’t able to breach Keylor Navas with either of his set-piece attempts.

PSG managed to see out the rest of the match to secure their 13th success in the Coupe de France.

The showdown was the first of two finals to be played before French clubs focus on the 2020-21 campaign. PSG face Lyon in next Friday’s Coupe de la Ligue final to conclude the last edition of that competition.