Balotelli frus­trated as Nice fal­ter in title race

New Straits Times - - Sport -

PARIS: Mario Balotelli en­dured a frus­trat­ing af­ter­noon as Nice dropped two vi­tal points in the French title race with a 1-1 draw at mid-ta­ble Nantes on Satur­day.

Nice had plenty of the ball but Balotelli was well shack­led by the home de­fence — not al­ways fairly — and the mav­er­ick Ital­ian striker won his side a series of free-kicks in dan­ger­ous ar­eas that they failed to make the most of.

The draw means Nice stay third, a point be­hind Paris Sain­tGer­main and four off lead­ers Monaco, but both have a game in hand in a three-way tus­sle for the title.

Ar­gen­tine for­ward Emil­iano Sala put Nantes ahead on 22 min­utes when his strike was too hot to han­dle for Nice goal­keeper Yoan Car­di­nale.

Jean Michael Seri equalised with a cracker from the edge of the box six min­utes later, ri­fling home into the top cor­ner.

“It is a good point,” said Nice boss Lu­cien Favre, whose side were the pace­set­ters in Ligue 1 but have been usurped at the top and only drew 2-2 home to strug­gling Caen last week.

“It was a dif­fi­cult en­counter, as ex­pected from a team that is very com­mit­ted and pow­er­ful.

“The be­gin­ning was es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult, but we got bet­ter and scored a great equaliser.”

Balotelli, whose early sea­son form has dipped after a suc­ces­sion of in­juries and sus­pen­sions, cut an in­creas­ingly de­mor­alised fig­ure and was of­ten left iso­lated up front.

His tra­vails were summed up 10 min­utes from time when a promis­ing break­away for Nice left him un­marked in front of goal but a cross from the left was be­hind him and the move broke down.

He threw his arms up in anger.

Seven min­utes from time Favre subbed a de­spon­dent Balotelli, who had just one shot on tar­get all game.

And it was Nantes who might have stolen all three points in the sec­ond minute of in­jury time when Pre­juce Nak­oulma went down in the box un­der a heavy chal­lenge from Valentin Eysseric.

It looked like a penalty but Nak­oulma was booked as Nice were left hang­ing on.

Nantes coach Ser­gio Con­ce­icao stormed on to the pitch at the end to con­front ref­eree Benoit Mil­lot and his play­ers sur­rounded the of­fi­cial.

“To­day, with the penalty (not given) at the end, it was ridicu­lous,” he said.

“I do not want to talk too much about the ref­eree be­cause there are days when they are not at their best and I un­der­stand that be­cause some­times it was me who was the same.

“But it’s a shame, it’s two points lost.”

In other games on Satur­day, Bordeaux ham­mered Mont­pel­lier 5-1 at home and are sixth, push­ing Mar­seille for a spot in Europe.

At the other end of the ta­ble Lori­ent scored the win­ner in the fourth minute of in­jury time in a thrilling 3-2 vic­tory at Nancy in a rel­e­ga­tion six-pointer.

Lori­ent are still bot­tom but just three points from safety and dragged Nancy deeper into the mire. AFP

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