Nice’s Italian forward Mario Balotelli (L) celebrates with his teammates after scoring during the French L1 football match Nice (OGCN) vs Dijon (DFCO) on December 18, 2016 at the “Allianz Riviera” stadium in Nice, southeastern France.
VALERY HACHE / AFP
Mario Balotelli scored twice on his return to the starting line-up as Ligue 1 leaders Nice stretched their advantage at the top to four points on Sunday with a 2-1 victory at home to Dijon.
The Italy striker made his first league start in six weeks after recovering from a calf injury and converted a first-half penalty to fire Nice ahead at the Allianz Riviera.
Julio Tavares replied with a spot-kick for Dijon five minutes later, but Balotelli turned home the winner early in the second half to send Nice seven points clear of reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain.
Second-place Monaco could trim the gap back to just a single point when they host Lyon in Sunday’s late game.
“The victory wasn’t undeserved but it was a tough one to come away with,” said Nice coach Lucien Favre. “It’s not a surprise, Dijon are a well organised team with good players.”
Balotelli played a full 90 minutes and scored a late consolation in Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat against Bordeaux in the French League Cup, with his return providing a timely boost for Favre’s men.
Wylan Cyprien stung the palms of Baptiste Reynet with a free-kick midway through the opening period and Nice grabbed the lead on 32 minutes after Alessane Plea was fouled by Yunis Abdelhamid.
Balotelli converted from the spot for his first league goal since October 30, although their advantage was short-lived with Arnaud Souquet harshly penalised for a challenge on Vincent Ruefli in the Nice area.
Cape Verde international Tavares swept home to level and revive Dijon’s hopes of snapping a seven-game winless run that has seen them sucked into the relegation places.
But former Dijon defender Souquet atoned for his earlier foul with a low strike across goal that Balotelli poked in as the flag stayed down despite replays showing the Italian was in an offside position.
Plea then struck the bar late on as Nice sought to close out the game, while Dijon finished with 10 men as captain Cedric Varrault picked up a second yellow card.
Bafetimbi Gomis scored again for Marseille as Rudi Garcia’s side picked up a third victory in succession with a 2-0 win over Lille to climb up to sixth.
Winger Florian Thauvin added a superb solo strike as Marseille went some way to making amends for their shock last-16 cup exit at second-tier Sochaux on penalties earlier in the week.
On Saturday, Unai Emery’s PSG slumped to a second defeat in three matches after losing 2-1 at Guingamp.
Yannis Salibur and Nill de Pauw both found the target to give Guingamp a two-goal lead with Edinson Cavani’s 17th league goal of the season unable to prevent the visitors sliding to a fourth loss already this term.