Paris (AFP) – Marseille kept up their hunt for Champions League football on Saturday despite losing in-form striker Mario Balotelli to injury after VAR saw them escape last-gasp penalty drama to beat Nimes 2-1.
Balotelli has helped kick-start Marseille’s chase for European football with seven goals in 11 Ligue 1 appearances since arriving from Nice in January but left the field with a thigh injury 12 minutes before the break.
“He stopped because he wasn’t 100 percent,” said coach Rudi Garcia.
“He wanted to stay on but there was no point playing with a player who is not fully fit.”
Garcia’s side move above Saint-Etienne into the European places after squeaking past Nimes in the enigmatic Italian’s absence, taking the three points thanks to two goals in two second half minutes from Balotelli’s replacement Valere Germain and Luiz Gustavo.
They now sit fourth in Ligue 1’s Europa League spot on 51 points, five behind third-placed Lyon — in the final Champions League spot — with six matches left to play after Bruno Genesio’s side fell to a shock 2-1 defeat at struggling Nantes on Friday.
Now all eyes are on the clash between the two sides to come at the Stade Velodrome on May 12.
“Now is not the time to think about the 36th round of fixtures (when Marseille host Lyon),” added Garcia.
“We’ve won three points, for now we have returned to fourth place and we will see what Saint-Etienne do tomorrow (against Bordeaux). We had to win after Lyon’s defeat yesterday.”
Nimes sit 10th despite Teji Savanier getting the away side back in the game with an 82nd minute penalty following Boubacar Kamara’s handball.
Bernard Blaquart thought his side had a golden chance for an equaliser in the final seconds when referee Frank Schneider blew for another spot-kick in the fourth minute of added time after Marseille right-back Bouna Sarr handled the ball while falling over in his own area.
However after consulting with the video assistant referees Schneider ruled out the penalty for a trip on Sarr.
“There is contact, I fell and I took the ball, there is confusion and I was afraid that the referee would not take into account the fact that the Nimes player had touched me,” said Sarr.
“Fortunately there was the VAR (but) I got grief about that in the dressing room afterwards.”
Later on Saturday bottom two teams Caen and Guingamp will try to escape the drop zone when they take on mid-table Angers and Strasbourg respectively, while Monaco hope to further ease their own relegation worries when they host Reims.
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