Marseille hosts Saint-Etienne in real French derby

PARIS (AP) " Forget "Le Classique" and stay tuned for the biggest grudge match in French soccer.

The real French derby pits Marseille and Saint-Etienne, the country's two most decorated clubs, who meet Sunday at the Stade Velodrome.

Known as "Le Classique," the match between Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille only became popular during the 1990's when the arrival of foreign stars such as Rai, Rudi Voeller and George Weah started a strong rivalry heavily promoted by the clubs' respective owners " Bernard Tapie at Marseille and pay TV Canal Plus at PSG.

With Marseille no longer among the favorites for the title, that matchup has lost most of its interest in recent years.

But when it comes to Marseille and Saint-Etienne, the passion remains the same.

Given the high risk of fan trouble in the southern city, local authorities in Marseille have banned Saint-Etienne supporters from attending the game. Saint-Etienne, which has grown a dedicated fan base across the country, rued what it called an "unfair" decision, especially after about 1,000 Marseille supporters were allowed to travel to Geoffroy Guichard Stadium for the corresponding match back in November.

Saint-Etienne " which has 10 league titles to its name, one more than Marseille " dominated French soccer during the 1960s and '70s, with the Mediterranean club becoming one of its strongest rivals after regaining a spot in the top flight in 1966. Marseille finished runner-up behind "Les Verts" in 1970 and won its first title in 23 years ahead of Saint-Etienne in 1971.

Although their rivalry softened eventually with Saint-Etienne's sporting decline, their matchups are always intense. With Saint-Etienne trailing only three points behind sixth-place Marseille and both clubs challenging for European qualification next season, expect this one to be a "Classique."

Marseille, whose ambition is to regain its past luster over the next four years with the money injected by new owner Frank McCourt, should be at full strength. Saint-Etienne, the league's second-best defense with 25 goals conceded, is likely to be without defender Florentin Pogba " Paul Pogba's brother " who is doubtful for the game because of a thigh injury.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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