Balotelli shines as Nice stretch lead

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Mario Balotelli starred once again as clin­i­cal Nice opened up a six-point gap at the top of Ligue 1 with a 4-1 thrash­ing of Nantes yes­ter­day.

The mav­er­ick for­ward, back in form af­ter a night­mare spell at Liver­pool, scored one and was in­volved in two other goals as Nice took their un­beaten run since the start of the sea­son to 11 matches.

Wy­lan Cy­prien scored a brace and Alas­sane Plea also net­ted while Emil­iano Sala replied for the out-gunned vis­i­tors at the Al­lianz Riviera, as Nice played with panache and in­ci­sion.

The league lead­ers were quickly in con­trol of pro­ceed­ings and Balotelli was at the heart of it as they opened the scor­ing. The Italy star ran onto Younes Bel­handa’s chip over the top and although he was stopped in his tracks by des­per­ate last-gasp de­fend­ing, the ball broke to Cy­prien to slot into the empty net.

Nice were pil­ing on the pres­sure and the Nantes back­line cracked again as Balotelli ran onto a long ball from Jean Seri and calmly took a touch be­fore plac­ing the ball past Remy Riou and into the bot­tom cor­ner. Nantes weren’t com­pletely out of contention and Yacine Bam­mou should have done bet­ter than fire over from Lucas Lima’s cross 10 min­utes be­fore half-time. Nice kept com­ing, though, and Ri­cardo Pereira’s goal-bound shot was blocked by Diego Car­los.

But the hosts shot them­selves in the foot at the start of the sec­ond pe­riod as Mathieu Bod­mer tried to drib­ble the ball out of de­fence on the edge of his box.

He was robbed by Sala, who stroked a sump­tu­ous shot into the top cor­ner on 47 min­utes. Sud­denly Nice were reel­ing and strug­gling to hold on against a re­ju­ve­nated Nantes, with Sala and Mar­iusz Stepin­ski spurn­ing good chances. But the tide turned again on the hour mark as Plea rose ahead to head home Seri’s cor­ner.

Min­utes later a sub­lime flick from Balotelli sent Pereira scam­per­ing to­wards goal and he pulled the ball back for Cy­prien to drill home. Sec­ond-placed Monaco lost ground in the ti­tle-race with a 1-1 draw at Saint-Eti­enne on Satur­day.

Kamil Glik put Monaco ahead af­ter five min­utes but the hosts pulled level just 13 min­utes later through Loic Per­rin.

Cham­pi­ons Paris Saint-Ger­main are be­hind Monaco only on goal dif­fer­ence af­ter win­ning 1-0 at Lille on Fri­day night thanks to a goal from Uruguay for­ward Edin­son Ca­vani. —AFP

NICE: Nice’s Ital­ian for­ward Mario Balotelli (C) vies with Nantes’ French mid­fielder Adrien Thomas­son (L) dur­ing the French L1 foot­ball match Nice (OGCN) vs Nantes (FCN) yes­ter­day at the “Al­lianz Riviera” sta­dium in Nice, south­east­ern France. — AFP

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