Pitchside Europe

Corsican duo battling the odds in survival scrap

With Ajaccio holding Paris Saint-Germain to a draw for the second time this season, and Bastia winning on the road in Reims, the weekend's results suggest that Corsica's two top-flight representatives might survive in Ligue 1, despite their claims that the odds have been stacked firmly against them this season.

Ajaccio may have played half of Friday night's 0-0 draw in the capital with an extra man after PSG midfielder Thiago Motta was sent off, but for them to come away from the Parc des Princes with a share of the spoils was still a huge achievement.

Their budget of 20 million euros is dwarfed by PSG's €330m and is less than half the fee spent by Paris to sign Brazil star Lucas Moura, who was making his debut in the game.

Even with 10 men, PSG pinned Ajaccio back. The Corsicans simply could not keep the ball, with their own star player, Romanian striker Adrian Mutu, looking some way short of full fitness and unable to make any real impact.

But they escaped. A 0-0 draw against 10-man PSG was exactly the same outcome as when the sides met in Corsica back in August.

Things have changed at Ajaccio since then. Coach Alex Dupont was sacked just before Christmas with the side three points clear of the relegation zone. The club's president Alain Orsoni contemplated offering the job to former Marseille and Italy striker Fabrizio Ravanelli, but instead went for Albert Émon, who had a spell as coach at Marseille several seasons ago.

The signs in Émon's first league game in charge were positive, but having the smallest support in Ligue 1 and such a limited budget makes life tough for the side from southern Corsica, and things are not much different for Bastia, their neighbours from the north of the island.

Back in the top flight after winning two consecutive promotions, Bastia have had a testing campaign at times. They have conceded more goals than any other club, but Sunday's 2-1 win in Reims, a game in which France international goalkeeper Mickaël Landreau made his Bastia debut after signing a six-month deal, allowed them to move six points clear of the relegation zone.

Bastia can boast a proud history, including a run to the UEFA Cup final in 1978, and a passionate support. But the club and their fans have been accused of taking that passion too far at times.

They were recently hit with a three-game stadium ban, and were also threatened with a points deduction, following a series of incidents at their Stade Armand-Cesari. Match officials have been assaulted and threatened, and fans set off fireworks right outside the ground while Bastia and Marseille faced off behind closed doors last month.

For those reasons, Bastia will face Rennes on neutral territory next weekend, while Jo Bonavita, a 73-year-old club legend, decided to go on hunger strike in protest at the punishments.

"Week after week, month after month, they find a way to bring us down," says president Pierre-Marie Geronimi. "It is relentless. If they don't want us in the league, they just need to say so."

Ajaccio started the campaign with a two-point deduction handed down following incidents at a home game with Lyon last season. Then, in Ajaccio's last home game before Christmas, the officials became so frightened for their own security that they walked off the field. Home fans were furious at a decision to award a free-kick to Rennes inside the box after Ajaccio goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa picked up a back-pass.

Rennes scored from the award and went on to win the game 4-2. "What happened is scandalous," said Ajaccio president Alain Orsoni of the decision that went against his team. Like Geronimi, he senses a conspiracy.

The strong separatist movement on the island helps explain why visitors from the mainland get such a warm welcome in Corsica, and why the clubs believe they are unfairly targeted by the authorities.

Organised crime is a problem too - Ajaccio general secretary Jacques Nacer was shot dead in November - and Orsoni, who himself has strong links to the separatist movement and has had a more than colourful past, has recently admitted to fears for his life.

It all adds up to quite a mix, but at least there is little question that Ligue 1 is a much more colourful place thanks to the presence of Corsica's two leading clubs.

Andrew Scott