Lille take giant step towards French title
Paris: Lille moved ever closer to the league title after they came from behind to beat St Etienne 2-1 and give the unglamorous northern French side a seven point lead over defending champions Marseille.
Marseille can reduce it back to four points with three matches to play should they beat Brest on Wednesday while seven-time champions Lyon have to beat Auxerre away if they are to keep their flickering title hopes alive.
However, their chances of playing Champions League football did get a boost on Tuesday as main rivals Paris Saint Germain - who play Lille in the French Cup final this weekend - slipped up with a 2-2 draw at home to relegation-threatened Nancy - the hosts played the majority of the match with only 10 men as Christophe Jallet was sent-off.
Lille coach Rudi Garcia was delighted to have secured a place in next season`s Champions League.
"It is also the best possible way to prepare for Saturday`s final," he said.
"We cannot but think of the Cup final which is a huge event for our club and which we have every intention of winning.”
"However, we have a bigger ambition, it is to be champions of France. If we can stay top to the end, that will certainly not annoy us."
Lille suffered an early blow as the hosts took the lead in the fifth minute striker Emmanuel Riviere tapping home after they broke the visitors offside trap.
Lille goalkeeper Mickael Landreau blocked 35-year-old Laurent Batlles`s shot but the ball ran free and Riviere was on hand to finish it off for his ninth goal of the campaign.
However the visitors showing the mettle they have displayed all season levelled nine minutes later with a stunning sidefooted volley by Brazilian striker Tulio di Melo and their fortunes improved further a few minutes later as Landreau saved brilliantly from Bakary Sako`s penalty.
Landreau was at his best again much to the frustrated Sako`s despair as the former Nantes guardian produced a superb save from the French midfielder`s ferocious volley.
Landreau`s heroics paid off handsomely as Lille took the lead in the 66th minute French midfielder Rio Mavuba`s long range effort taking a slight deflection off St Etienne defender Sylvain Monsoreau`s thigh and deceiving host goalkeeper Jeremie Janot.
PSG also struck early as former France international midfielder Ludovic Giuly put in a super cross from the right and Mevlut Erding got the slightest of touches to it with his head to put the hosts 1-0 up.
However, the hosts suffered a potential hammerblow in the 20th minute as referee Olivier Thual rather harshly gave a straight red card to PSG right back Jallet after he judged him to have pushed over Julien Feret inside the penalty area.
It was a double blow for Jallet as it means he is suspended for this Saturday`s French Cup final with Lille and PSG could also have a doubt over the influential Giuly as he had to go off midway through the first-half.
Landry N`Guemo sent Lionel Coupet the wrong way with his penalty to level the scores leaving PSG`s fiery coach Antoine Kombouare fuming on the touchline.
However, Coupet was to show why he was once French number one as he spread himself to deny Malian midfielder Bakaye Traore when he was just one on one with him and in an entertaining contest Nene saw his vicious shot from outside the area cannon off the post.
PSG, though, gained an enormous psychological advantage in time added on of the first-half as 32-year-old veteran centre back Zoumana Camara swivelled and placed his right-footed shot into the net to make it 2-1.
However, Nancy fought all the way as they sought to get a point which could be crucial in their struggle to stay up and were deservedly rewarded in the 68th minute as the PSG defence failed to clear a cross and Youssouf Hadji was on hand to send a diving header past Coupet.