French Ligue 1 side Nantes will not be allowed to sign any new players before the summer of 2015 after Switzerland's Federal Supreme Court upheld a FIFA-imposed ban on Friday.
The eight-time French champions have now exhausted all avenues of appeal after previously going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to contest the transfer ban handed down for their signing of Guinean striker Ismael Bangoura in 2012.
The Court ruled that Bangoura, who is now 29, was still under contract with Al Nasr of the United Arab Emirates when he signed for Nantes. As a result, Nantes and Bangoura were ordered to jointly pay 4.5 million euros ($6.2m, £3.7m) in damages to Al Nasr, and Les Canaris will now have to get by without bringing in any new players either this summer or in the January 2015 transfer window.
It means that Nantes, who are nine points clear of the Ligue 1 relegation zone in 15th place in the table, will not be able to replace their current top scorer, the Serbian international Filip Djordjevic, who is expected to leave when his contract expires in the summer.
However, Nantes director general Franck Kita told AFP that his club had prepared for such an outcome.
"We have had this punishment hanging over us for two years and to be honest we were convinced that it would happen a lot sooner," he said.
"So we organised ourselves in preparation. We have signed players (in January) and nobody will be out of contract except for Djordjevic."
Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck early and late on Tuesday to keep Paris Saint-Germain on course for a domestic double as the Ligue 1 leaders edged past Nantes 2-1 to reach the final of the League Cup. Ibrahimovic struck his first goal in this season's competition to put PSG ahead after just five minutes at the Stade de la Beaujoire.
Olivier Veigneau responded with an equalizer nine minutes from the end but Ibrahimovic popped up with his second of the match, and 31st of the season, in the final minute to send the three-time winners through to April's final at the Stade de France.
"It was a real cup tie, the script is often like that," said PSG coach Laurent Blanc afterwards.
"In the first (period) we led 1-0. We had chances to double our lead but didn't. In the second half Nantes applied more pressure, were more involved, created some chances and equalised. But in the last 10 minutes my team stepped up a gear.
"We're in the final, that's what we were looking for and we've done it."
With PSG already eliminated from the French Cup, Blanc fielded a strong side that featured just three changes from the team that beat Bordeaux 2-0 on Friday evening.
Ezequiel Lavezzi was drafted in to replace the injured Edinson Cavani on the left of an attacking three, while Marco Verratti, back from suspension, was restored to his midfield duties at the expense of Javier Pastore.
Reserve goalkeeper and cup-specialist Nicolas Douchez came in for Salvatore Sirigu, but new recruit Yohan Cabaye was again only listed among the substitutes.
Having swept the two league encounters this season, including a 5-0 demolition at the Parc des Princes just over a fortnight ago, PSG almost struck first blood just four minutes in as Lavezzi hit the outside of the post following Blaise Matuidi's burst into the box.
Heavy rain made for a slick playing surface at La Beaujoire and it played a factor just moments after that initial reprieve as a poor clearance from Nantes keeper Remy Riou gifted Ibrahimovic the opening goal.
Riou appeared to slip as he went to launch Issa Cissokho's back-pass upfield, succeeding only in sending the ball straight to Ibrahimovic with the Swede firing a first-time left-foot effort from 30 yards over the head of the unfortunate Nantes keeper.
Thiago Silva nearly added a second for the visitors inside the opening 15 minutes but Riou managed to divert the Brazilian's fierce drive from a narrow angle away to safety.
Lavezzi then found himself in behind the Nantes backline but was thwarted by the legs of Riou on the half hour.
The hosts almost drew level from their first genuine opportunity as Papy Djilobodji rose to meet Vincent Bessat's corner only for a perfectly placed Verratti to clear off the line with referee Laurent Duhamel waving away protests for a handball.
A fractious second half produced little in the way of goalmouth action until Veigneau netted an 81st-minute equaliser for Nantes as he slammed home substitute Georges-Kevin Nkoudou's cross.
But with extra time beckoning the hosts were undone as Ibrahimovic escaped the attentions of Oswaldo Vizcarrondo to head in Lucas' cross from the right on 90 minutes and punch PSG's ticket to the Stade de France.
Awaiting PSG in the final will be the winners of Wednesday's tie at the Stade de Gerland between Lyon and Ligue 2 outfit Troyes.
Paris Saint-Germain cruised to a 5-0 thrashing of Nantes on Sunday to maintain their five-point lead over Monaco at the top of Ligue 1. Earlier in the day, the Principality club had kept the pressure on the champions with a routine 2-0 win at mid-table Toulouse.
Brazil centre-back Thiago Silva opened the scoring for PSG after just 10 minutes at the Parc des Princes as he knocked home the loose ball from six yards after Nantes goalkeeper Remy Riou failed to hold onto Edinson Cavani's header.
PSG had all but put the game to bed by half-time as Zlatan Ibrahimovic doubled their advantage from the penalty spot.
However, it wasn't without controversy as Chaker Alhadhur was deemed to have brought down Marco Verratti, despite television replays suggesting the Italian midfielder had merely slipped.
But just six minutes after the restart it was all over as Blaise Matuidi's back post header found Thiago Motta unmarked to scored from eight yards out. Nantes were their own worst enemies at times and Papy Mison Djilobodji was penalised for trying to dribble past Verratti, the Italian tackling the defender and sending Ibrahimovic away to cross for Cavani to notch number four. Ibrahimovic added the fifth after Javier Pastore's shot was blocked following more good work from Matuidi.
Paris Saint-Germain will look to underline their superiority over the rest of Ligue 1 with a win when they play host to Nantes at the Parc des Princes on Sunday night.
Laurent Blanc's side come into the weekend five points clear of Monaco at the summit and with confidence high after a clinical 3-1 win away to Bordeaux in the quarter-finals of the League Cup in midweek. The capital outfit have been beaten just once - a 2-0 reverse at Evian last month - in domestic competition all season, and remain on course to win a domestic treble.
Tuesday's win against Bordeaux set up a League Cup semi-final away to Nantes at the Stade de le Beaujoire in early February, but it is at the Parc des Princes where the teams meet this weekend. Les Canaris are enjoying a fine campaign themselves and lie in sixth place coming into the weekend but PSG are unbeaten in front of their own fans since November 2012, so anything other than a home win would be a huge surprise.
Blanc had the luxury of rotating his squad at Bordeaux, while Ligue 1 top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic only played the first 45 minutes. The coach was delighted with the performances of fringe players such as Javier Pastore, who scored one goal and set up another at the Stade Chaban-Delmas.
"I was satisfied with individual performances but especially the collective performance," said Blanc. "We are playing on all fronts and we don't have any serious injury concerns or suspension worries over yellow cards, but we are still a long way from the 'Grand Slam'," he continued, with PSG also looking forward to a Champions League last-16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen next month.
Monaco are also in action on Sunday, when they travel to face Toulouse looking for a first win in three Ligue 1 outings, while Lille will be looking to bounce back from an unexpected 2-1 home reverse against Reims when they go to Saint-Etienne on Friday. The match at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard is crucial for both clubs, with Saint-Etienne knowing a win will allow them to close to within three points of the podium and a Champions League qualifying berth.
Les Verts are unbeaten in four league games but were sensationally dumped out of the French Cup in midweek, losing on penalties to fourth-tier Cannes. "I was really down that night after being knocked out. But now the most important thing is the game against Lille," said Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier, who welcomes back goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier after a ban as well as defender Kurt Zouma, who has missed the last ten games suspended after a red card for breaking the leg of a Sochaux player in November. "We need to roll our sleeves up and get back to work. Now we will only have one game per week so we will have time to work well and fine-tune our plans."
Elsewhere, Marseille entertain an improving Valenciennes, who have won their last two league games, while Reims host Lyon in an intriguing encounter at the Stade Auguste-Delaune. OL continued their good recent form by beating Marseille 2-1 in the League Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday but they are four points adrift of Reims in the league table and the club from Champagne country are in great shape just now under Hubert Fournier, the former Lyon defender.
At the foot of the table, Ajaccio and Sochaux have been cut adrift and must turn things around quickly or face the prospect of Ligue 2 football next season. The Corsican club are nine points from safety as they travel to Nice while Herve Renard's Sochaux side are seven points below the relegation zone and in desperate need of maximum points at home to fourth-from-bottom Montpellier.
Elsewhere, Bastia host Bordeaux, Lorient host Breton rivals Guingamp and Rennes meet Evian.
Now that 2014 is officially here, it’s time to honor 2013’s top American players playing club ball abroad. Who rounds out the starting eleven?
According to Major League Soccer, there’s really no uniform way of evaluating the players but to level the playing field, they always take “team impact” into account. This factor allows “… second-flight standouts a more equitable chance for recognition. Despite the handicap, only two players from lower leagues were able to break into 2013’s best XI.
GK - Brad Guzan, Aston Villa
This pick surely took everyone by surprise. You expected to see Timmy between the posts and you’d certainly have a formidable argument. However, MLS took Guzan’s strong end of the year finish heavily into account when making their decision. Although Howard made a meal of wins, shutouts, and cup damage, Guzan actually finished ahead of the United States number 1 in “…saves, defensive gaffes covered, Man of the Match awards and, most notably, team Player of the Year prizes.” America is blessed with the problem of having multiple strong goalkeepers. Make your case for Tim Howard all you like, Major League Soccer gave Brad Guzan of Aston Villa the nod for 2013.
D - Geoff Cameron, Stoke City
It’s been an interesting year for Cameron to say the least. He is proving to be a dangerous player in multiple positions but Major League Soccer wanted to acknowledge Cameron for his tenacious play at right back in 2013. Look for Cameron to continue with his good run of form in 2014 in the run up to the World Cup this summer.
D - Tim Ream, Bolton
Give the man some serious props. Tim Ream is the only player in the starting XI to have played all of 2013 in the second division of English footy. However, despite the spot he earned, most of the votes acknowledge his strong start to 2013 – not so much for the way he finished the year. According to MLS, “He had a handful of decent starts as left back and defensive midfielder this year, but the former Red Bulls center back has been right near all-league form at his favored position since September.”
D - John Anthony Brooks, Hertha BSC
Brooks had a stellar 2013. As a prodigal member of Berlin’s back line, Brooks spent most of 2013 obtaining the second-division title. This effectively promoted the club to the Bundesliga, Germany’s top tier of professional football. In his first nine games playing in Germany’s top flight, Brooks has been a bit shaky but overall, MLS was pleased with his efforts and felt he deserved a spot in America’s squad.
D - Fabian Johnson, Hoffenheim
Major League Soccer was impressed with Johnson’s versatile play in 2013. He earned praise for his time spent at left back for Hoffenheim during the calendar year but Johnson was more content adding a flanking mid field role to his arsenal as well. Like many athletes, there were a few ups and downs but overall, the US international offered more positive contributions to his side than negatives. His 2013 cannot be denied.
M - Jermaine Jones, Schalke
Jones had a very good 2013. On the international stage, Jones often wowed and worried American fans with his style of play. At Schalke, however, the midfielder remained fairly consistent. “Jones regularly started for a top-five caliber Bundesliga team, offering plenty of hearty tackles and transition play.” While a transfer looks almost all but certain for Jones during the January transfer window, expect to see Jones continue his form heading into Brazil this summer no matter which team wants to pay the American for his services.
M - Sacha Kljestan, Anderlecht
Kljestan has always eluded the American radar. He’s always been quite a bright player but year after year, he seems to slip under the radar. It's great to see Major League Soccer give credit where credit is due. Kljestan bagged 10 goals in 2013 and became a R.S.C. Anderlecht regular. He also became a much more well rounded player and was able to notch a crucial assist against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champion’s League, adding to “…his American record for career assists in European Cup play.”