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Nantes’ long, exhausting voyage in the Europa League

Europa League: the extreme journey for Nantes
Antoine Kombouaré, the team’s head coach, and the rest of the Nantes squad RONEN ZVULUN / PANORAMIC

The Canaries needed to make sure that everything was in order before they embarked on their journey to Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, to take against Qarabag on Thursday at 6:45 p.m.

It is 4936 kilometers from Nantes to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which will host the match between Qarabag and the Canaries on the second day of the Europa League this Thursday. A journalist recently asked Antoine Kombouaré maliciously if he traveled to Baku by sand yacht, which is a reference to the distance between the two cities (6:45 p.m.). An actual epic journey. That the people of Nantes will of course be flying in a private plane, with no offense intended to those who would have been happy to send them in a bus instead. A plane that the Loire-Atlantique club had to even change since the one it usually uses did not have a tank that was large enough to take it to the boundaries of Asia was a plane that even had to be changed. Even the issue of visas needed to be planned for and resolved in advance for three players on the team: the Nigerian Moses Simon, the Cameroonian Ignatius Ganago, and the Egyptian Mostafa Mohamed. All three players are from African countries. The symbol that this trip is unlike any other for Nantes, who has always desired to travel to Europe, and who will, as a result, be served.

Read also: Nantes snatches victory in the nick of time to claim Europa League title

Following departing the City of the Dukes in the early afternoon on Tuesday, the personnel began their journey to Baku, arriving there in the middle of the evening after a trip that lasted around seven hours. An extremely early departure time was necessary due to the requirement, on the European stage, to conduct a news conference the day before the match at the venue where it was going to be played. UEFA reserves the right to make exceptions in certain circumstances; however, Nantes has not requested any. According to the proverb “damn for damn,” which means “damn for damn,” we may as well play the game of this lengthy voyage in its entirety.

On the other hand, for the trip back, Antoine Kombouaré was adamant about getting back to France as soon as possible. As a result, he did not stay the night in the city but instead boarded a night flight that arrived in Nantes-Atlantique after 6 a.m., which was the time the airport opened for business again. The Canaries will be welcoming the unexpected Lensois to Beaujoire on Sunday at 5:05 p.m., and they would like to bring him back down to earth. Evidently, in the eyes of everyone, the most significant match of the week, which once again raises the specter of the representatives of Ligue 1 snubbing the Europa League.

An armed group to have it both ways?

On the other hand, this will not be the situation for Nantes on Thursday. Even if Kombouaré were to carry out a modest personnel change, in particular regarding the prospective extension of Samuel Moutoussamy and Mostafa Mohamed’s contracts, the team would still be competitive. The small Canaries have certainly gained appetite and drive as a result of their first-ever victory, which they earned against Olympiakos by a score of 2-1. Who, in addition, do not want to become the first team in France to lose to Qarabag, whose record against teams from Ligue 1 shows three draws and five defeats. The most recent two matches to date versus Olympique de Marseille, which was also consulted for some logistical guidance, were played during the previous season, including a very dry 3-0 victory in Baku.

This a demonstration that, despite the great distance, it is not impossible to depart Azerbaijan with several points remaining in your account. In addition to this, Kombouaré has never tried to hide the fact that he has high hopes for the Europa League: “Now I know my group much better. Today, I feel that we are equipped to play on both counts, and the goal is to have a successful European campaign, and most importantly, to continue to do well in the Ligue 1 championship. I believe that we are equipped to compete on both counts. This necessitates a successful outcome in Baku, where the Nantes coach will have the opportunity to mention that travel may also serve as a kind of education for young people.

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