PARIS: Brazilian striker Vagner Love chose Valentine’s Day to deliver his first goal in France’s Ligue 1 on Sunday (Monday in Manila), earning Monaco a crucial point in a 1-1 draw at Saint-Etienne.
The result leaves Monaco on 46 points in second place in Ligue 1, which is an automatic Champions League qualifying berth, six points clear of Nice and Saint-Etienne in level third with Lyon and Nantes both just a further point back.
Saint-Etienne had needed extra-time to beat struggling Troyes and make the French Cup quarter-finals in midweek, but were in buoyant mood after winning their last two league games.
Christophe Galtier’s men are strong at home and Monaco ‘keeper Danijel Subasic made several key saves as the principality side weathered first-half pressure.
But the Croatian shot-stopper was wrong-footed as Senegalese defender Moustapha Sall produced a towering header to open the scoring on 57 minutes.
Thomas Lemar, Love and Helder Costa all missed glaring chances as Monaco threw caution to the wind looking for an equalizer.
But the dogged visitors eventually earned a point on 84 minutes when the 31-year-old Love, who joined from Corinthians in the January transfer window, stabbed home in a chaotic goalmouth scramble.
The Valentine’s Day goal from Love left coach Galtier feeling bittersweet.
“We didn’t take our chances when we were on top — we lost two points due to a weak 10 minutes. It’s a shame for the players and the fans, but it’s exciting what with the Cup and a late run up the league,” he said.
In Sunday’s late game Marseille will have left Nice pinching themselves that they had only a point after a 1-1 draw.
A deceptively deep corner caught the Nice defence stone cold on 28 minutes leaving Marseille’s Chilean midfielder Mauricio Isla a free header at the back post which left the poorly positioned ‘keeper Yoan Cardinale looking sheepish.
But the ‘keeper redeemed himself with an astonishing series of stops starting late in the first half by running off his line to save with his feet from Michy Batshuayi.
He would save twice more within a minute from the Marseille striker.
“Man, if I could play like that every week my coach would be happy,” Cardinale told French television.
Marseille coach Michel was far from happy and could be seen cursing under his breath after Vincent Koziello crossed for Valere Germain to steal in and score for Nice at the near post after 58 minutes to draw the sides level.
The hosts climbed level third with Saint Etienne, although Nice coach Claude Puel was not getting carried away.
Lyon recorded their third successive big win, thumping Caen 4-1 to further boost their hopes of snatching Champions League qualification from a frustrating season.
Samuel Umtiti, Alexandre Lacazette, Maxwell Cornet and Corentin Tolisso all scored for OL with Andy Delort replying for Caen.
On Saturday, runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain extended their record-breaking unbeaten league run to 35 matches but they had to settle for a point in a 0-0 draw at home to Lille in their final outing before facing Chelsea in the Champions League on Tuesday.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc rested the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Maxwell, while Edinson Cavani missed their best chance, somehow blasting off target with the goal gaping after Lille ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama dropped a cross.
But Paris were furious over the weekend about comments made on social media by their talented full back Serge Aurier, who has been suspended after apparently calling Blanc “a faggot”.
The capital club however are an enormous 24 points clear of Monaco in second.
Among Saturday’s other games, Nantes beat Lorient 2-1 to make it 15 games unbeaten between league and cup. The Canaries are right in contention for European qualification.