Montpellier edges closer to title: Ligue 1
Younes Belhanda's well-taken early goal was enough to give French leader Montpellier a crucial 1-0 win at Toulouse Friday and take a provisional five-point lead on Paris Saint-Germain ahead of its match at Lille on Sunday.
The Morocco midfielder scored in the third minute when he picked up the ball out on the left, cut inside, dribbled past several players and then smacked the ball into the bottom corner.
Belhanda scored a superb scissor kick against Marseille earlier this month, and his 11th league goal of the season proved crucial as livier Giroud missed a second-half penalty that would have settled Montpellier's nerves.
"It was important not to drop points. We will try and recover properly for the match against Evian on Tuesday," Montpellier defender Henri Bedimo said. "We will watch the PSG match now. We have four games left and we have to make as few mistakes as possible. Everyone's watching each other at this stage of the season."
A win or a draw for Lille on Sunday suits Montpellier.
If PSG loses, it will stay five points behind Montpellier, while a draw will leave PSG trailing by four points and Lille by nine points with four games remaining. Montpellier hosts Lille in the penultimate match of the season.
Also Friday, Marseille's miserable run continued as it lost 2-1 at Lorient, meaning coach Didier Deschamps' team has not won in the league since Jan. 29 and only once in the last 16 matches in all competitions.
Marseille remains rooted in 10th place, while Lorient climbed up to 12th.
After his goal, Belhanda continued to threaten throughout the first half, combining expertly first with midfield partner Marco Estrada and then with Giroud as he twice just failed to get into shooting positions.
Giroud then went close with an audacious lob that goalkeeper Ali Ahamada tipped over, and Belhanda set up winger John Utaka for a good chance that forced Ahamada into action again as Montpellier threatened to score at will.
But Toulouse went close to equalizing in the 29th when goalie Geoffrey Jourdren saved midfielder Adrien Regattin's shot and Brazilian defender Hilton cleared winger Franck Tabanou's follow-up effort off the line.
Tabanou's handball in the 58th minute then gave Giroud the chance to score his 21st league goal of the campaign, and Ahamada's busy night continued as he guessed the right way and saved the France striker's penalty.
Giroud, who alternates with Belhanda for every Montpellier penalty, has missed two of his four spot kicks this season.
Utaka provided Giroud with another opportunity soon after, but Ahamada saved his effort.
At Lorient, Marseille fell behind to Arnold Mvuemba's penalty late in the first half, and striker Kevin Monnet-Paquet made it 2-0 after 53 minutes, before winger Mathieu Valbuena pulled one back in the 77th with his first goal since Jan. 10.
On Saturday, Lyon looks to win its first trophy since clinching the domestic double in 2008 when it plays semiprofessional side Quevilly in the French Cup final at Stade de France. Lyon recently lost the League Cup final to Marseille.
In Sunday's other league games, it is: Auxerre vs. Brest; Nancy vs. Caen; Rennes vs. Ajaccio; Saint-Etienne vs. Dijon; Sochaux vs. Bordeaux, and Valenciennes vs. Nice.