Marseille survive late VAR drama to stay in Champions League hunt

PARIS: Marseille kept up their hunt for Champions League football on Saturday despite losing in-form striker Mario Balotelli to injury after VAR saw them escape last-gasp penalty drama to beat Nimes 2-1.

Balotelli has helped kick-start Marseille’s chase for European football with seven goals in 11 Ligue 1 appearances since arriving from Nice in January but left the field with a thigh injury 12 minutes before the break.

“He stopped because he wasn’t 100 percent,” said coach Rudi Garcia.

“He wanted to stay on but there was no point playing with a player who is not fully fit.”

Garcia’s side move above Saint-Etienne into the European places after squeaking past Nimes in the enigmatic Italian’s absence.

They took the three points thanks to two goals in two second half minutes from Balotelli’s replacement Valere Germain and Luiz Gustavo and the video assistant referees ruling out a penalty awarded in the fourth minute of added time that would have given the away side a chance to snatch a dramatic point.

They now sit fourth in Ligue 1’s Europa League spot on 51 points, five behind third-placed Lyon – in the final Champions League spot – with six matches left to play after Bruno Genesio’s side fell to a shock 2-1 defeat at struggling Nantes on Friday.

Now all eyes are on the clash between the two sides to come at the Stade Velodrome on May 12.

“Now is not the time to think about the 36th round of fixtures (when Marseille host Lyon),” added Garcia.

“We’ve won three points, for now we have returned to fourth place and we will see what Saint-Etienne do tomorrow (against Bordeaux). We had to win after Lyon’s defeat yesterday.”

Nimes sit 10th on 43 points despite Teji Savanier getting the away side back in the game with an 82nd minute penalty following Boubacar Kamara’s handball.

Bernard Blaquart thought his side had been given a golden chance for an equaliser in the final seconds when referee Frank Schneider blew for another spot-kick in the fourth minute of added time after Marseille right-back Bouna Sarr handled the ball while falling over in his own area.

However, after consulting with the video assistant referees Schneider ruled out the penalty for a trip on Sarr. Blaquart’s side are a point behind Strasbourg, who stay ninth, six points behind Marseille after a hugely entertaining 3-3 home draw with Guingamp that does little to lessen the away side’s relegation woes.

Jeremy Sorbon’s leveller three minutes from time after a brace from Ludovic Ajorque and another from Sanjin Prcic looked to have won the day for Strasbourg lifted Guingamp off the bottom and a point above Caen, who lost 1-0 to mid-table Angers.

Those results let Monaco off the hook following their goalless draw at home with Reims, which moves Leonardo Jardim’s side to 16th.

However, they have injury problems to deal with ahead of next week’s visit to Paris Saint-Germain, who could wrap up the Ligue 1 title yesterday with a draw at second-placed Lille.

Midfielder Cesc Fabregas left the field early with a calf injury, while Stevan Jovetic left the Stade Louis II on crutches after Jardim said he had ruptured cruciate ligaments in his left knee.

They are two places and seven points clear of the relegation play-off spot after all four of the teams below them failed to win.

That place is occupied by Dijon, who drew 0-0 at home against Amiens on Friday in a match that was interrupted after monkey chants were directed by a home fan towards the away side’s captain Prince Gouano.

It was the latest in a string of incidents of racist abuse that have blighted football this season, and prompted Fifa head Gianni Infantino to ask football authorities across the world to take a “zero tolerance” stance on racism. – AFP

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