Balotelli Scores On Debut But Marseille Crisis Deepens As Firework Explodes, Fans Strike


Marseille’s slide continued with a 2-1 home loss to Lille in a match that started with a fan protest, was interrupted for more than 30 minutes after a firework exploded on the touchline and also saw a red card and a Mario Balotelli goal on his debut.

The game ended with Marseille players berating referee Amaury Delerue and some fans invading the pitch.

Lille won with a goal by Nicolas Pepe in the dying seconds of each half. The first was a penalty kick. The second, with Marseille attacking desperately, was stroked in unmarked from a similar distance.

There was just time for Balotelli to head in a meaningless goal, following a midweek switch from Nice, after a corner in the last footballing action of a night dominated by the disgruntled home fans.

Lille stay second, 10 points behind Paris Saint-Germain, who have two games in hand, but are six points ahead of Lyon, who visit Amiens on Sunday.

“The context was very strange, but we were very pragmatic,” said Christophe Galtier, the Lille coach.

“We were playing Marseille team that is very weakened, very diminished.”

Marseille have won only once since late November.

In that time they have been eliminated from three cups and dropped to seventh in the league.

Frustrated fans called a strike for the first 10 minutes of Friday’s game.

When the match kicked off swathes of the stands behind the goals at the normally vibrant Velodrome were empty except for banners hung by fan groups.

Most were aimed at owner Frank McCourt and president Jacques-Henri Eyraud. Others picked out coach Rudi Garcia.

At the north end, one banner, signed by ‘Marseille Trop Puissance’, said: “90 minutes of silence for a leadership that wants to kill its own supporters.”

Opposite, the ‘Winners’ wrote a long message in English, presumably for the benefit of McCourt, as American.

“You get scammed, your credibility takes a hit” read one line.

“Fire the coach,” said another.

The messages were not all aimed at the club. One bore the name of Emiliano Sala, the former Nantes striker whose plane disappeared over the Channel.

The match was halted in the 57th minute after a firework, thrown from the crowd, exploded just inches away two Marseille players Kevin Strootman and Jordan Amavi.

Strootman, perhaps thinking that the flaming object was a flare, was toeing it when it blew up

Delerue pointed to the player tunnel and the match officials and the visiting Lille team left the field. After kicking the ball around, the Marseille players followed suit.

Alain Marseille, one of the league’s refereeing administrators, emerged from the match officials’ changing room to tell French television: “If the safety of the players could not be guarantee…that’s the end of the match.”

But, following a 31 minute delay, the players re-emerged.

Ten minutes after play restarted, Marseille’s frustration bubbled over as one of their misfiring stars Florian Thauvin, outpaced by Youssuf Kone, kicked the Lille player and earned a red card, reducing the home team to 10 men.

Balotelli came off the bench in the 74th minute.

In an end-to-end final 15 minutes, accompanied by more loud explosions in the crowd, the Italian had several chances to equalise.

Twice the ball fell to him on the edge of the area. He lashed the first best chance high over the bar. The second, in added time, he shinned wide.

Then, after Pepe had made the game safe for Lille, Balotelli found the target.



Categories: sport

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