Marseille crowned French league champions

PARIS (AFP) – Marseille clinched their first French league title in 18 years on Wednesday after beating Rennes 3-1.

The 1993 European Cup winners - who were stripped of their French title in 1993 because of a matchfixing scandal - hold an eight-point lead over both Lille and Auxerre with just two matches remaining.

Goals by Argentinian defender Gabriel Heinze - who becomes one a rare breed to win league titles in three different countries - leading scorer and captain Mamadou Niang and record signing Lucho Gonzalez saw Marseille to the crown under the gaze of coach Didier Deschamps, a member of the last Marseille side to lift the trophy back in 1992.

Marseille's players Mathieu Valbuena (C) and Mamadou Niang (R) celebrate at the end of the French L1 football match Marseille vs. Rennes, at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille. AFP photo

Auxerre's hopes of keeping their slim hopes alive had dimmed earlier when they lost 2-1 at Lyon.

A brilliant curling freekick by 32-year-old Heinze in the opening minutes got Marseille off to an ideal start.

However, Rennes had not come along simply to be kingmakers and they deservedly levelled in the 37th minute as Heinze was beaten by Jerome Leroy's cross and Jimmy Briand was on hand to head past Steve Mandanda.

Marseille, though, should have secured the title in the 68th minute when Cameroon international Stephane Mbia had a free header from a corner but instead tamely headed it well wide.

But his miss didn't matter a jot as two goals inside three minutes from Niang, with a simple tap-in for his 16th of the season making him the league's leading scorer, and a cracking effort from outside the area by Lucho earned them the title.

"We can savour this moment as it is the result of nine months of hard and difficult work, and it wasn't easy tonight," said Deschamps.

"I am very proud of what the players have achieved."

The relegation places were confirmed as Boulogne lost 1-0 at home to St Etienne, which saw the latter side retain their elite status and condemn the hosts to a quick return to the Second Division while Le Mans joined them as they slipped to a 3-2 defeat at Nancy.

Grenoble had already been relegated.

Le Mans' fate was out of their hands as St Etienne needed just a point away at Boulogne to retain their elite status but they still gave it all they had got to keep the pressure on the former French giants.

They even took a 2-1 lead in the first-half having gone behind to a goal by Julian Ferret, as Modibo Maiga and Mathieu Dossevi struck in the 23rd and 25th minutes respectively.

However, Ferret levelled for the hosts with a stunning volley in the 31st minute to douse the strugglers fire and their stay in the First Division ended just after the hour mark as Chris Malonga netted.

Bordeaux's woeful end of season continued as their desperate search for at least a Champions League place looks to be slipping from their grasp as they were held 1-1 away at Nice.

The hosts took the lead through Emersen Fae in the 26th minute but Bordeaux's Brazilian star Wendel levelled for the 2009 champions seven minutes later with a typically brilliant freekick from fully 30 metres out.

However, the point sees them trailing second-placed Lille and third-placed Auxerre by six points.

Lyon are fourth on 65 points, two adrift of Lille and Auxerre, but with a game in hand.

Lille did their chances of a Champions League spot a power of good with a 2-0 away win at Toulouse and Bordeaux even slipped out of the Europa League places as Montpellier beat Sochaux 1-0 away to move into fifth place two points clear of Bordeaux.

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