Lille close on Champions League return with Nimes thrashing

Paris (AFP) –


Lille moved closer to a return to the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2012 as Christophe Galtier's side produced a fine second-half display to thrash Nimes 5-0 on Sunday.

Five different players scored after the break as Lille moved six points clear of third-placed Lyon, who they face next weekend, in Ligue 1. The top two in France qualify directly for the Champions League.

"We're averaging two points a game," said Galtier. "We've had a magnificent season, we must make it exceptional by producing a big performance in Lyon next Sunday."

Former Chelsea forward Loic Remy broke the deadlock six minutes after half-time at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

Jonathan Bamba made it two with a magnificent header 13 minutes later. Turkish full-back Zeki Celik lobbed in the third with 20 minutes to play and Nicolas Pepe tapped in his 20th Ligue 1 goal of the season 10 minutes later.

Substitute Rui Fonte to drilled home an injury-time fifth, leaving Lille on the brink of Europe's top table.

- Saint-Etienne keep pressure on Lyon -

Elsewhere, fourth-placed Saint-Etienne kept the pressure on Lyon in the race for a Champions League qualifying-round spot, as Robert Beric's early double secured a 2-0 win over Toulouse.

The Slovenian striker diverted in Pierre-Yves Polomat's low cross to put Les Verts ahead in only the second minute.

Beric slotted in his second only eight minutes later as Wahbi Khazri unselfishly squared the ball.

Saint-Etienne are only three points adrift of Lyon with four games of the season remaining, while Marseille sit five points further back in fifth place.

Marseille's Champions League hopes all but came to an end, though, as Rudi Garcia's men slipped to a 2-1 home defeat by Nantes later on Sunday despite Mario Balotelli's sixth goal in seven games at the Stade Velodrome for the club.

Samuel Moutoussamy curled Nantes into a 22nd-minute lead, but Balotelli headed home Lucas Ocampos' excellent right-wing cross to level only three minutes later.

Brazilian Andrei Girotto, who had been sent off three times in his previous four league games, made some amends for those dismissals by bundling in the winner for Nantes less than five minutes after half-time.

Marseille remain eight points adrift of Lyon, and now face an uphill battle just to reach the Europa League.

Balotelli called on his teammates to keep fighting, but stopped short of fully committing his future to Marseille, despite only joining the club in January.

"Nothing is lost. I was champion of England in the last minute (with Manchester City in 2012)," said Balotelli, who was substituted in the 68th minute.

"We must believe until the end. I must finish the championship first before talking about my future."

Algerian Youcef Atal scored a hat-trick as Patrick Vieira's Nice beat bottom club Guingamp 3-0 to keep their hopes of reaching the Europa League alive.

"I'm very happy, it's my first hat-trick. Every time you score, you want to start again," said Atal, who made the most of playing on the wing despite usually being a full-back.

Caen edged out fellow strugglers Dijon 1-0 to move above their opponents into 18th, the relegation play-off place, and keep the pressure on 17th-placed Monaco.

Stephanie Frappart became the first female referee to take charge of a Ligue 1 game in Amiens' goalless draw with Strasbourg.

"I feel a lot of pride after this match," she said. "I think that I managed to do what I wanted to do, and that I had the qualities to officiate in Ligue 1."