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Balotelli Brace Keeps Nice On Top

Mario Balotelli scored twice as Nice ensured they would finish the weekend as Ligue 1 leaders by beating Dijon.

The former Liverpool striker converted a 32nd-minute penalty after Alassane Plea was brought down.

The Italy striker made his first league start in six weeks after recovering from a calf injury and converted a first-half penalty to fire Nice ahead at the Allianz Riviera.

Julio Tavares replied with a spot-kick for Dijon five minutes later, but Balotelli turned home the winner early in the second half to send Nice seven points clear of reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain.

Second-place Monaco could trim the gap back to just a single point when they host Lyon in Sunday’s late game.

Balotelli played a full 90 minutes and scored a late consolation in Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat against Bordeaux in the French League Cup, with his return providing a timely boost for Lucien Favre’s men.

Wylan Cyprien stung the palms of Baptiste Reynet with a free-kick midway through the opening period and Nice grabbed the lead on 32 minutes after Alessane Plea was fouled by Yunis Abdelhamid.

Balotelli converted from the spot for his first league goal since October 30, although their advantage was short-lived with Arnaud Souquet harshly penalised for a challenge on Vincent Ruefli in the Nice area.

Cape Verde international Tavares swept home to level and revive Dijon’s hopes of snapping a seven-game winless run that has seen them sucked into the relegation places.

But former Dijon defender Souquet atoned for his earlier foul with a low strike across goal that Balotelli poked in as the flag stayed down despite replays showing the Italian was in an offside position.

Plea then struck the bar late on as Nice sought to close out the game, while Dijon finished with 10 men as captain Cedric Varrault picked up a second yellow card.

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