Fans invade field as 10-time champ Saint-Etienne relegated

SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) — Angry fans invaded the field and set off flares as Saint-Etienne, one of the most storied soccer teams in France, was relegated from the top tier on Sunday after losing 5-4 on penalty kicks to Auxerre in their promotion-relegation playoff.

The second-leg game was 1-1 after 90 minutes with no goals added in extra time at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. That left the aggregate score at 2-2 after the sides also drew 1-1 in the first leg.

Saint-Etienne fans invaded the field immediately after the last penalty kick with flares being set off. Players from both teams rushed into the locker room as fans ran across the pitch.

L’Equipe newspaper said the supporters were then dispersed by police. No injuries were immediately reported.

Auxerre went ahead early in the second half Sunday with a goal from Hamza Sakhi before Mahdi Camara got Saint-Etienne’s equalizer. In the shootout, Ryad Boudebouz missed a penalty for Saint-Etienne as Auxerre clinched its place next season in Ligue 1.

Auxerre goalkeeper Donovan Leon delivered a stellar performance. He denied Boudebouz’s effort in the shootout and made a total of eight saves

“I was there when we were demoted in 2012,” Léon said. “Nobody believed in us in this playoff, it was really tough but we managed to go up.”

Saint-Etienne, which owns a record-tying 10 league titles, hosted the second leg as coach Pascal Dupraz’s side unsuccessfully fought relegation after finishing 18th in the French league. It last played in the second tier in the 2004-05 season.

“We will in a while announce important news concerning the future of the club and our own,” said Saint-Étienne shareholders Bernard Caiazzo and Roland Romeyer in a statement published just after the game.

Saint-Etienne dominated the league during the 1960s and ’70s. A city with a strong industrial past, Saint-Etienne lost its past luster in the wake of a financial scandal that rocked the club in the 1980s, but the passion for soccer remains intact. In addition to the grim picture on the field, the club is also going through financial difficulties that have deteriorated during the pandemic and the French soccer TV deal crisis. The club is officially on sale.

Auxerre finished third in the second division. The victory ended its decade-long absence from the top tier.

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