Football: Nantes putting faith in youth

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NANTES GO into today's French Cup final at the Stade de France against Second Division Sedan as favourites to win and crown a fine season with a newly-built young side.

Following a poor 11th place in the league last season, coach Reynald Denoueix's cultivation of a fine crop of youngsters has borne considerable fruit. Nantes eliminated two fellow First Division sides on the way to the final, the holders Paris St-Germain and Metz, both away. They won on penalties at PSG, the side that beat them in both their last finals, in 1983 and 1993.

"We've erased our image as a fragile team," said captain Mickael Landreau, a goalkeeper who made his debut at 17, turned only 20 yesterday and was one month old when Nantes won the 1979 final, beating AJ Auxerre 4-1 after extra-time.

Eric Decroix, the sole survivor of Nantes' 1995 league championship side, the Argentine international Nestor Fabbri and Jean-Marc Chanelet at the back are the only players into their 30s in a squad which has an average age of 23.

For Sedan, victory would be the icing on a different cake, that of promotion to the First Division. They were relegated in 1974 and only won promotion from the Third Division last year. Sedan are currently second in the Second Division standings and need one point from their last two matches to secure promotion.

"To say we don't fear facing Nantes would be an exaggeration. But the players' morale lifts them and when that happens anything is possible," coach Pascal Remy said.