Dimitar Berbatov’s delightful goal gave AS Monaco a 1-0 win against OGC Nice on Sunday to leave Paris Saint-Germain’s title celebrations on ice, while AC Ajaccio’s relegation was confirmed with defeat at SC Bastia.
Berbatov’s nonchalant fifth-minute lob was the only goal of the Cote d’Azur derby at the Stade Louis II and the victory got Claudio Ranieri’s side back on track after their shock exit from the Coupe de France to En Avant de Guingamp in the semi-finals on Wednesday last week.
A third successive league win for the principality club means they are now certain to finish in the top three and qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League.
They are eight points clear of third-placed LOSC Lille Metropole, who were held 0-0 at Olympique de Marseille, and seven behind leaders PSG, who do not host Evian Thonon Gaillard until Wednesday having beaten Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 in the Coupe de la Ligue final on Saturday.
Even if PSG win that game, they will not secure a second consecutive Ligue 1 title until next weekend at the earliest.
For all the money spent last summer, finishing second would be an excellent achievement for Monaco, who were in Ligue 2 a year ago, but coach Ranieri’s future has been the subject of much speculation recently.
However, the 62-year-old Italian revealed that Vadim Vasilyev, the club’s vice president, had reassured him over his position after the match.
“You know what he said to me? That I will be here next season,” Ranieri said.
The win will come as a relief to him, although it will be best remembered for Berbatov’s outrageous early goal.
The Bulgarian controlled a pass from Joao Moutinho on the left of the penalty area near the byline, looked up and nonchalantly lobbed the ball over Nice goalkeeper David Ospina and into the net at the far post for his sixth goal in France since arriving from Fulham in the January transfer window.
Monaco had chances to increase their advantage in the first half, with Valere Germain striking the post, before Ospina was forced into a good save from a free-kick by his compatriot James Rodriguez.
However they could not get a second goal and they were fortunate not to concede an equalizer midway through the second half when Danijel Subasic saved well from substitute Dario Cvitanich, and Mathieu Bodmer’s header from the resulting corner was blocked by Subasic and then cleared by Mounir Obbadi right on the line.
The Nice players appealed for a goal to be given, but the officials waved play on and Claude Puel’s side are without a win in five matches.
Ajaccio made the trip across Corsica for the derby against Bastia knowing they had to win to stand any chance of further postponing their inevitable relegation, but a 2-1 loss left them 15 points from safety with only 12 points left to play for.
“We’ve known for a long time that we would go down, so this changes nothing,” Ajaccio coach Christian Bracconi said. “We were condemned on November 14 — now it’s done. We’ve been living with the idea for weeks.”
Their descent to Ligue 2 after three seasons in the top flight caused predictable delight amongst the fans of their island rivals Bastia.
While second-from-bottom Valenciennes moved closer to the drop after a 6-2 drubbing by Nantes, Sochaux-Montbeliard’s hopes of surviving the drop received a huge boost with a 1-0 win at Stade de Reims.