Paris (AFP) – 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 Saint-Germain 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.
Balotelli, whose early season form has dipped after a succession of injuries and suspensions, cut an increasingly demoralised figure and he 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 Nice boss Lucien 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, for whom this was a second draw on the bounce, were left hanging on.
Monaco, who dumped Manchester City out of the Champions League last 16 in midweek, can extend their lead at the top when they travel to lowly Caen in Sunday’s early match.
Reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain, still reeling from their Champions League collapse at Barcelona, round off the weekend French league action as they entertain in-form Lyon at the Parc des Princes.