Saint-Etienne suffer relegation in France


Saint-Etienne's French midfielder Zaydou Youssouf runs with the ball next to Auxerre's Moroccan midfielder Hamza Sakhi during the French L1-L2...
Saint-Etienne's French midfielder Zaydou Youssouf (L) runs with the ball next to Auxerre's Moroccan midfielder Hamza Sakhi during the French L1-L2 play-off football match between AS Saint-Etienne and AJ Auxerre at the Geoffroy Guichard Stadium in Saint-Etienne, central-eastern France on May 29, 2022.

Angry fans have invaded the field and set off flares as Saint-Etienne, one of the most storied soccer teams in France, were relegated from the top tier after losing 5-4 on penalties to Auxerre in their promotion-relegation playoff.

The second-leg on Sunday finished 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 with a goal from Hamza Sakhi before Mahdi Camara got Saint-Etienne's equaliser. In the shootout, Ryad Boudebouz missed from the spot for the hosts and Auxerre went five from five to clinch their place in next season's Ligue 1.

"I was there when we were demoted in 2012," Auxerre goalkeeper Donovan Leon, who denied Boudebouz's effort in the shootout and made a total of eight saves on the night, said.

"Nobody believed in us in this playoff, it was really tough but we managed to go up."

Saint-Etienne, who have won 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. Les Verts 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," Saint-Etienne shareholders Bernard Caiazzo and Roland Romeyer said 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 their 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.

They join Metz and six-times champions Bordeaux in Ligue 2 next season.

Auxerre finished third in the second division, behind winners Toulouse and Ajaccio. The victory ended their decade-long absence from the top tier.

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