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Strasbourg pair 'touched by grace' in French league  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

PARIS (AP) — Strasbourg became the first team to leave the Parc des Princes with a point this season in the French league, and it's largely because of an exciting attacking pair combining grit and great technique.

Only days after they both scored twice in a midweek game, midfielder Anthony Goncalves and striker Nuno Da Costa were again on the scoresheet on Sunday to delay Paris Saint-Germain's title party with a 2-2 draw.

"They are being touched by grace at the moment," Strasbourg coach Thierry Laurey said.

The 28-year-old Da Costa, a Cape Verde striker whose career has been slowed by physical problems, has finally come to maturity. His qualities came to prominence two seasons ago when the 18 goals he scored for Valenciennes in the second division paved the way for his transfer to Strasbourg. Versatile and fast, the striker has scored eight goals and delivered five assists in only 18 starts this season.

After crossing paths with Cristiano Ronaldo at Sporting in his training years, Da Costa moved to the south of France with his parents. At 18 years old, a serious tibia injury almost derailed his career but he finally turned pro in 2015 at Valenciennes.

"He still must progress on two or three details that will help him complete his game," Laurey told L'Equipe newspaper earlier this season. "He is clever, skillful and has a good head game. He progressed as a man by becoming a dad, and he will improve as a player if keeps the same mindset and continues to listen as he does all the time."

Da Costa's equalizer on the break against PSG was a model of composure as he turned in Lionel Carole's low cross with a precise shot beyond the reach of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

At 33, Goncalves is a less talented player but his leadership qualities have helped him progress from the third division to the first.

Goncalves had already made headlines this season when he said that PSG striker Neymar should not "come and whine" after he picked up a foot injury during a French Cup match between the clubs in January. Neymar, who had been on the receiving end of a hard tackle from Goncalves earlier in the match, has been sidelined since.

On Sunday, Goncalves scored one of the best goals of his career with a stunning strike from outside the box that silenced the Parc des Princes and took his tally to five league goals this season. His combative attitude was deeply missed after he left the field in the 65th minute against PSG and Strasbourg could not hold onto its lead.

DANCING AGAIN

Hatem Ben Arfa has sometimes been referred to as the French Lionel Messi for the quality of his dribbles.

At 32, he proved this weekend that the difficult time he went through while at PSG is well over with a splendid goal for new team Rennes.

Ben Arfa got the ball in midfield and kept it for about 15 seconds as he dribbled past one player after the other before playing a 1-2 with a teammate in the box to score between three defenders.

Ben Arfa posted a video of the goal on his Intsagram account with the caption: "The art of dribbling is also the art of dancing!"

BLANC IN LYON?

With Lyon coach Bruno Genesio's future in Lyon hanging in the balance, the seven-time champions are denying reports they have approached Laurent Blanc.

Lyon went through a difficult week, losing in the French Cup semifinals midweek before slumping to a 3-1 loss to Dijon, a loss that jeopardized its chances of earning direct qualification for the Champions League next season.

"The Olympique Lyonnais strictly denies having contacted Laurent Blanc, or any other coach," Lyon said in a statement Monday. "The whole club is focused on the end of the season, with the sole goal of putting Bruno Genesio and his players in the best condition to win a place on the podium."

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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