Their reunion had the feel of a David versus Goliath fight. Rachid Meziane, the coach of Villeneuve-d’Ascq, facing Valérie Garnier, his counterpart from Fenerbahçe, for whom he was an assistant on the French women’s basketball team. On the one hand, the northern team, with a limited budget, which played the first final in its history in the Women’s Euroleague, the most prestigious of the European cups. On the other, the Turkish team, title holder, with an envelope three times larger.

Rachid Meziane knew that his troops were not starting favorites, far from it. Facing the Istanbul “mountain”, Sunday April 14, in Mersin (Turkey), the final ascent promised to be extreme. But the coach preferred to have fun with it: “The “Fener” is in the culture of winning, we are in the culture of achievement. » After all at the foot of the Taurus Mountains of the south of the Anatolian plateau, its players were not close to an achievement, they who had already offered themselves the right to compete for the coronation for their first participation in the “Final Four” of the Euroleague.

The last step was too great for the “Guerrières” of Villeneuve-d’Ascq: they were unable to prevent their rivals of the day from retaining the continental crown, beaten 106-73.

Valérie Garnier can smile, the objective has been achieved. The former coach of Les Bleues (2013-2021), who has presided over the destiny of the Turkish team since the summer of 2023, signed “the perfect season” that she dreamed of: 54 wins in 56 matches. The coach had warned, from the victorious semi-final against the local club, Mersin, on Friday evening, that she would not give in to feelings: “I find it very good that there is a French team in the final, but for my part I will be 100% Turkish on Sunday. »

There is therefore no question of being moved by the fact of finding Rachid Meziane with whom she went to get bronze at the Tokyo Games, before they were thanked unceremoniously in the process. Their association also accompanied the silver hours of the Tricolores, those of Euro 2015, 2017, 2019 then 2021.

“I have often said it: I owe a lot to Valérie. Being recruited into the French team changes your career,” Meziane admitted to the daily L’Equipe before Sunday’s final, expressing his pride in measuring himself against the one who promoted him to the point of running, after their separation, for the reins. of Belgium (in 2022) – selection with which he won the continental coronation last year, eliminating… France in the semi-final.

“You are the team of the year”

On Sunday, its “Guerrières”, current leaders of the French championship, did not climb “Everest Fenerbahçe”, but their journey will remain memorable whatever happens. It has been twenty years since a French team last played for the Euroleague title.

“It’s historic,” said pivot Kariata Diaby, after the victory on Friday against USK Prague, one of the great teams in Europe, which reached its third semi-final in three years. This will be stuck in the minds of many for a long time. » “They are as tough as can be,” greeted, for her part, the American Kayla McBride, one of the stars of “Fener”. Many thought they were losers, but not me. »

Rachid Meziane leaves Mersin crowned with the title of “best coach” of the tournament. “I wouldn’t have imagined it would ever be possible. I feel like my life is a dream and I don’t want to wake up,” he reacted during the award ceremony. Before paying tribute to his daughters: “If I am the coach of the year, it is because you are the team of the year. I love you. »

Of course, recalled the French international Valériane Ayayi, the Northerners also benefited from the exclusion of Russian teams from the competition, decided after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The Russians who have won eleven coronations in the last twenty years, the 2029-2020 season having been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“France simply does not compete on budgets,” insisted the winger to L’Equipe. We are too far away to hope to regularly, once every two years, place a team in the Top 4.” In history, only two French clubs have offered themselves the prestigious cup: Bourges (1997, 1998 and 2001) and Valenciennes (2002 and 2004). We will therefore have to wait a little longer to see this list grow.