When Toulouse FC earned their first ever spot in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers by securing a highly unlikely third place finish in Ligue 1 on Saturday, Violets coach Elie Baup described the sensation as "an intense moment".
Their path to the promised land was undeniably intense and took a couple of favourable twists and turns on the final day of the season. Toulouse beat FC Girondins de Bordeaux 3-1 with a Johan Elmander hat-trick while 800km away LOSC Lille Métropole equalised in added time against Stade Rennais FC to deny them third place, and RC Lens also slipped up with a 3-0 defeat at relegated ES Troyes Aube Champagne. Those results meant Toulouse, who were in the third division five years ago, will now take part in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round in August.
The achievement is all the more unexpected as a week earlier, after a goalless draw at FC Nantes Atlantique, Toulouse were mathematically out of the race for the third UEFA Champions League spot behind Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique de Marseille. However, the match at La Beaujoire on 19 May was interrupted when Nantes fans invaded the pitch with three minutes to go and the French Football Federation ruled on Thursday night that Toulouse should be awarded three points instead of the one they had originally.
Bordeaux coach Ricardo Gomes said: "The two additional points they got during the week made them euphoric. They deserved to beat us and deserved their Champions League spot." Baup added: "This came in special circumstances but it's totally deserved." Toulouse were genuine dark horses. Since returning to the top flight, they finished 16th in 2004, 13th in 2005 and 16th again in 2006.
The club can thank Baup for their upsurge in fortunes but he is concerned that the celebrations do not start until the job is truly complete. "Toulouse is the fourth biggest city in France. I was asked to target the first eight but not the top three," he said. "Now we're just into the qualifying rounds but it's not the real Champions League and we must be aware of that." Veteran defender Dominique Arribagé said: "We benefited from mistakes by the big guns to be here but what a moment!
Toulouse have been waiting for this for 20 years."
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