Soccer-Lorient's poor run proves harmless for Ligue 2 champions

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PARIS, April 30 (Reuters) - When France's Ligue 2 season was suspended amid the COVID-19 crisis, everyone connected with leaders Lorient could have been forgiven for breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Despite topping the table, the team were struggling badly, having lost four of their last five games.

With 54 points from 28 matches, they were clinging to a single point lead over RC Lens, with AC Ajaccio two points behind and Troyes only one further back.

On Thursday, however, the French League (LFP) blew fulltime on the season after prime minister Edouard Philippe had said soccer could not resume by September as part of measures to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Lorient were crowned champions and will start the new season in Ligue 1 three years after being relegated.

"It's the victory of a whole club and I feel happy and proud," Lorient president Loic Fery told local newspaper Ouest France.

"After the 2002 French Cup, it's Lorient's second title in over 90 years."

While players and staff cannot celebrate the promotion and the title with the fans as France has been on lockdown since March 17, Fery is looking ahead to exciting times.

"We cannot wait until we are reunited with the fans at the Moustoire (stadium)," he said.

Lens, the 1998 French champions, had equal reason to celebrate after the LFP said the first two Ligue 2 teams would be promoted while Amiens and Toulouse would be relegated from the elite.

"I think of the fans, this wonderful crowd formed by the Lens people," club president Joseph Oughourlian said in a statement.

In 2019-2020, Lens have averaged over 27,000 supporters per game while the average attendance in Ligue 2 is just under 7,000 per match. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)