NICE, France: With Paris Saint-Germain struggling to find inspiration, veteran defender Dani Alves did a surprising impersonation of injured compatriot Neymar to score the winner in Nice on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
With eight minutes left and after better-known attacking talents had squandered a string of chances, Alves, who is just 1.72 meters (5-foot-6) ghosted into the center forward position and outleaped the defense to head in a cross from Adrien Rabiot to seal a 2-1 victory.
“After the defeat against Real Madrid (in the Champions League), we have reacted very well. I’m pleased to see how the team has responded after that loss,” PSG coach Unai Emery said.
“We were lacking that little something to forget the defeat. Perhaps a tiny element of it will never leave. But we’ve won against Metz, Angers, and now here and I like that.”
A rare Sunday lunchtime (1200 GMT) kick-off was part of the developing French league strategy of emulating more successful European leagues and targeting Chinese viewers.
The two teams provided a lively spectacle, which ended with PSG stretching their lead to 17 points over Monaco.
Allan Saint-Maximin gave the home team the lead after 17 minutes with a deft finish, which was just the fifth touch of a breathtaking move that began on the Nice goal line.
Angel di Maria quickly replied, speeding through a suddenly uncertain Nice defense and swerving in a shot that squirmed past Walter Benitez.
In the absence of Neymar, the two best-known strikers on display almost gave the Chinese prime-time audience goals to cheer.
Edinson Cavani of PSG hit a post from close range in the first half after hesitation in the Nice defence.
Mario Balotelli forced a flying save from PSG keeper Alphonse Areola and later hit the bar with a header.
Saint-Maximin’s pace repeatedly troubled PSG, but he was unable to repeat his cool finish, though he came close with one shot that clipped the knee of the sprawling Areola.
At the other end, Di Maria forced a full-stretch save from Benitez with a daring volleyed back flick.
Kylian Mbappe, who seemed out of touch, wasted a glorious close-range chance with 12 minutes left.
Alves also forced a leaping save from Benitez with a bold overhead kick.