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Hazard shines as Lille close on top spot
Published : 01 Apr 2012 18:16:57
Eden Hazard inspired Lille to a 2-1 win at home to fourth-placed Toulouse on Sunday that lifted the champions to within four points of top spot in Ligue 1 and gave them breathing room in third place.
Hazard, who is expected to leave Lille next summer, broke the deadlock with a 12th-minute penalty and teed up Dimitri Payet for Lille's second goal before Serge Aurier pulled one back for Toulouse with half an hour to play.
Victory took Rudi Garcia's side to within four points of leaders Montpellier -- who have a game in hand -- and second-placed Paris Saint-Germain, while Lille are now six points clear of Toulouse in the duel for the final Champions League place.
"We know things happen fast in football," said Hazard.
"Now people will be talking about the title. We're away from home next weekend (at Brest) and we'll have to go for it."
Lille had a strong early penalty appeal rejected after visiting captain Daniel Congre tripped Payet but when Congre went through the back of Hazard a few minutes later, referee Philippe Kalt pointed to the spot.
Hazard stroked the penalty into the bottom-right corner to claim his 14th league goal of the season, putting him second only to Olivier Giroud (18 goals) in the scoring charts.
The 21-year-old was enjoying himself in the Lille sunshine and he set up the hosts' second goal in the 31st minute, side-stepping onrushing goalkeeper Ali Ahamada and crossing for Payet to score from close range.
Aurier pulled a goal back for Toulouse when he converted Adrien Regattin's low cross from the right but the visitors could not find an equaliser and saw Pantxi Sirieix sent off in the 82nd minute for an ugly foul on Nolan Roux.
Lyon, fifth after a run of three straight wins, can now leapfrog Toulouse into fourth if they win at seventh-placed Rennes in Sunday's late match.
In Sunday's other afternoon kick-off, Caen squandered a chance to leave the relegation zone as they drew 0-0 at home to Ajaccio.
Carlo Ancelotti succumbed to his first defeat as PSG coach on Saturday when his team fell 2-1 at Nancy to leave Montpellier top on goal difference.
Montpellier were unable to take immediate advantage, however, as their game at Marseille has been postponed until April 11 to allow OM extra time to prepare for Tuesday's trip to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.