Balotelli brace keeps Nice on top

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

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 yes­ter­day 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 Sain­tGer­main.

Sec­ond-place Monaco could trim the gap back to just a sin­gle point when they host Lyon in Sun­day’s late game.

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 Lu­cien 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.

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 twogoal lead with Edin­son Ca­vani’s 17th league goal of the sea­son un­able to pre­vent the visi­tors slid­ing to a fourth loss al­ready this term.

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