PARIS, France (AFP) –
Marseille’s slim hopes of catching French title favourites Paris Saint-Germain were further diminished as they were held to a 0-0 draw at Lille on Sunday, while Lyon hauled themselves back into the Champions League places with a 3-1 victory at home to Toulouse.
An inspired Steve Mandanda was to thank as Marseille were fortunate to claim a point against in-form Lille, who had won on seven of their last eight outings prior to Sunday’s clash in northern France.
The result left second-place Marseille nine points adrift of PSG with just six games remaining, with Lille three points behind Lyon in the race for the final Champions League spot.
Salomon Kalou should have given Lille the lead on 22 minutes when his close-range header was repelled by an instinctive stop from Mandanda.
Djibril Sidibe was the next Lille player to be thwarted by the France international before Mandanda dived at full-stretch to deny Dimitri Payet on two occasions.
Home goalkeeper Steeve Elana had to be alert as he made a sharp low save to deny Andre-Pierre Gignac early in the second half but he was overshadowed by his opposite number as Mandanda superbly clawed away a Sidibe cross that was inadvertently diverted goalwards by Lucas Mendes.
Payet was then frustrated for a third time as the Marseille custodian turned away his curling free-kick to preserve a fifth successive clean sheet for Elie Baup’s side.
“We picked up a point and we didn’t concede a goal. We’re continuing our work to try and stay in the top three,” said Baup.
“(Mandanda) had an extraordinary match and that confirmed that he’s the best goalkeeper in Ligue 1,” added the Marseille boss.
Meanwhile, Baup’s counterpart Rudi Garcia was left feeling deflated but was full of praise for Mandanda.
“It’s an illogical result. I’m disappointed for the players. What can I blame them for? We just came up against a fantastic goalkeeper. It was he who allowed Marseille to earn a point,” mused Garcia.
“You can only say that when you can’t win a match, which tonight was because of Mandanda, that it’s good not to lose.”
Earlier, Lyon halted a sequence of five matches without a win with a long overdue victory against Toulouse.
Clement Grenier netted an eighth-minute opener for Lyon before Wissam Ben Yedder levelled for Toulouse but second-half strikes from Bakary Kone and Bafetimbi Gomis secured the three points for Remi Garde’s side at Stade Gerland.
Lyon subsequently climbed to third, two points point shy of Marseille, after arresting an alarming loss of form that extinguished their title hopes and had seen them slide to fifth.
More importantly they moved two points clear of Nice and Rhone rivals Saint-Etienne for the third and final spot in next season’s Champions League, while Toulouse, who have yet to win in 19 trips to the Gerland in the top-flight, stayed 11th.
“We needed three points because of the results of our rivals (for the European places), Saint-Etienne and Nice in particular,” said Lyon defender Mouhamadou Dabo.
“We had to win to continue to believe in our goals. After their goal, we didn’t give up. We stayed solid and in the second half we stepped it up a notch. We went in search of the win. It was essential.”
Elsewhere Nice further staked their claim for European football next year with a commanding 3-0 victory over relegation-threatened Sochaux.
Mahamane Traore broke the deadlock for Claude Puel’s side six minutes after half-time.
Didier Digard then struck a rare goal on 59 minutes to double the lead for the Cote d’Azur club before a late third from Argentine striker Dario Cvitanich – his 14th of the campaign – gave the scoreline a more emphatic look.Published 15 Apr 2013, 09:21 IST