Monday, March 8, 2021

Balotelli brace keeps Nice in title hunt


tiamin rice

Nice’s Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Lille (LOSC) and Nice (OGCN) at the Pierre-Mauroy Stadium in Villeneuve d’Ascq, near Lille, northern France, on April 07, 2017. DENIS CHARLET / AFP

Mario Balotelli scored a first-half double as Nice came from behind to win 2-1 at Lille on Friday and keep their unlikely bid for the French title alive.

Ibrahim Amadou’s early deflected strike had Lille in front at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, but Balotelli quickly equalised with a sublime finish and then tapped in what proved to be the winner on the stroke of the interval.

The goals took Balotelli’s total in Ligue 1 this season to 13 in 19 appearances but, remarkably, they were the first of that tally he has scored away from home.

Nice, who have already established a best-ever points tally with six games of the season still to play, move provisionally above defending champions Paris Saint-Germain and into second place.

They are just a point behind leaders and local rivals Monaco, but the principality club and PSG both have two games in hand.

That means a first league title since 1959 remains a long shot, but they are refusing to give up. Lucien Favre’s team have been beaten only twice all season and are now unbeaten in nine matches since losing 3-0 at Monaco at the start of February.

That run has seen them draw three times and win their remaining six matches all by a margin of a single goal.

Nice have been hit by injuries to key players and for the fourth game in succession they fell behind, this time in the 14th minute when Amadou’s shot from 20 yards found the net via a wicked deflection off Ricardo Pereira.

But it took Nice just three minutes to draw level, Balotelli meeting Valentin Eysseric’s flighted pass with a superb first-time finish with the side of his right foot.

Lille’s Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama had to scramble to claw a Pereira header around the post before his Nice counterpart Yoan Cardinale made a decisive save from Eder at the other end.

Nice then went in front just before the break, Balotelli following in to score after Enyeama had palmed out a Pereira effort, and the visitors held on in the second half to take all three points.

Monaco can go four points clear of Nice with a win at in-form Angers on Saturday afternoon, with PSG at home to Guingamp on Sunday.

Nice’s win also moves them a step closer to securing a top-three finish and Champions League qualification — they are now 16 points ahead of Lyon, who entertain Lorient on Saturday evening.

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