A delightful Dimitar Berbatov goal gave Monaco a 1-0 win against near neighbours Nice on Sunday and meant that Paris Saint-Germain will have to wait a little longer yet before clinching the Ligue 1 title.
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 French Cup to Guingamp at the semi-final stage on Wednesday.
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 Champions League.
They are nine points clear of third-placed Lille, who go to Marseille later, and seven behind leaders PSG, who do not host Evian until Wednesday having beaten Lyon 2-1 in the League Cup final on Saturday night.
Even if PSG win that game, they will not secure a second consecutive championship 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.
This 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 forward from Joao Moutinho on the left of the penalty area near the byline, looked up and nonchalantly lobbed the ball over Nice ‘keeper David Ospina and into the net at the far post for his sixth goal in French football since arriving from Fulham in January.
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 couldn’t get a second goal and they were fortunate not to concede an equaliser 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.
Later on Sunday, Ajaccio cross Corsica for the derby against Bastia knowing they have to win to stand any chance of further postponing their inevitable relegation.