Marseille wins 9th French League title

Marseille clinched its ninth league title by beating Rennes 3-1 on Wednesday, moving within one of the French record.

Marseille clinched its ninth league title by beating Rennes 3-1 on Wednesday, moving within one of the French record.

Gabriel Heinze, Mamadou Niang and Lucho Gonzalez scored for Marseille, which only trails Saint-Etienne in French titles.

"We've worked hard the whole season," Niang told Canal Plus television. "It wasn't easy. There were bad times, and there were good times. But in the end, it's bliss."

Heinze curled in a free kick in the third minute, but Rennes forward Jimmy Briand headed in a cross from Jerome Leroy to equalize in the 38th.

Niang tapped into an empty net in the 76th, and Gonzalez beat goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez from the edge of the area one minute later as Marseille's fans celebrated the title at its home ground of Stade Vélodrome.

After the final whistle blew, Marseille's players celebrated on the pitch with the stadium's speakers blasting We Are the Champions by British rock band Queen.

Marseille tops the standings with an unbeatable 75 points, eight more than Lille and Auxerre. Lyon is fourth with 65 points. There are two rounds remaining.

Marseille doesn't have Lille's potent attack or Auxerre's tight defence, but the team won the title because it contained the best balance — combining the second best offence with the second tightest defence. It also had the most wins and the fewest losses.

"Marseille can really be a great European club," winger Hatem Ben Arfa said. "We mustn't stop here. I believe this club could climb very high with time."

Marseille owed its title to a strong finish.

At the end of January, Marseille was trailing then leader Bordeaux by 12 points after a 2-0 loss at Montpellier, and it took a pep talk from coach Didier Deschamps to turn things round. Marseille has been undefeated in the league ever since.

"We spoke our minds for 20 minutes after a loss at Montpellier," said Deschamps, whose team now leads Bordeaux by 14 points.    Another key moment was Marseille's elimination from the Europa League in March. Marseille beat Lyon 2-1 three days after losing 2-1 to Benfica in the last 16 of the European club football's second-tier competition.

The loss to Benfica was followed by a seven-game league winning streak to take the team to the top of the standings.

By defeating Bordeaux 3-1 in the League Cup final in March, Marseille removed some pressure by ending a long title drought.

"By winning the League Cup, nobody would again mention those 17 years without a title," Deschamps said. "Even though it's just the League Cup, it gave a lot of confidence [to the team]. We took a lot out of that match because we were facing the best Bordeaux lineup while I think Bordeaux lost a lot of energy in that final."

The result deeply affected Bordeaux, which was then one of Marseille's rivals for the title. Bordeaux started a six-game league winless streak to drop out of contention.

Last season, Bordeaux won the title with 80 points and Marseille finished second with 77 points.

Also Wednesday, it was: Lyon 2, Auxerre 1; Toulouse 0, Lille 2; Nice 1, Bordeaux 1; Sochaux 0, Montpellier 1; Lorient 2, Monaco 2; Paris Saint-Germain 2, Valenciennes 2; Nancy 3, Le Mans 2; Lens 1, Grenoble 1 and Boulogne 0, Saint-Etienne 1.

Saint-Étienne secured safety while Le Mans and Boulogne were relegated to the second division.