Balotelli brace keeps Nice in hunt for Ligue I title

PARIS: 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. As well as still being in the title running, Nice are now certain to play in Europe next season.
They cannot finish any lower than fourth, but they are close to securing a top-three finish for the first time since 1976, and with it Champions League qualification — they are now 16 points ahead of Lyon, who entertain Lorient on Saturday evening.
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. — AFP