N’Koudou scores vs. former club as Marseille beats Nantes

PARIS (AP) Marseille midfielder Georges-Kevin N’Koudou had no qualms celebrating enthusiastically against his former club after scoring the winner in a 1-0 away to Nantes in the French league on Sunday.

The match pitted two of France’s storied clubs who have won 17 league titles but have now fallen way behind league leader Paris Saint-Germain in the hierarchy of European football.

In a drab first half, the only half-chance fell to Nantes, as forward Emiliano Sala let the ball run through his legs and midfielder Adrien Thomasson’s low shot was comfortably saved by goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

Marseille improved after the break and scored in the 53rd minute.

After Mali midfielder Birama Toure lost possession, winger Remy Cabella collected the loose ball and passed it to N’Koudou, who skipped inside Toure and hit a low shot into bottom corner from edge of the penalty area.

The unwritten rule of not celebrating against your old side did not apply to N’Koudou who – despite playing 34 matches for Nantes last season – pumped his fists and yelled enthusiastically in front of the traveling fans.

”It’s a pleasure to score my first (league) goal for Marseille, especially here,” N’Koudou said. ”The crowd jeered me, which is a shame because I had some good years here.”

Midfielder Abdelaziz Barrada fired just over moments later as Marseille took control.

”They made it tough for us in the first half, they roughed us up a bit,” said Marseille midfielder Lassana Diarra, whose consistent form has earned him a recall to the France squad. ”It’s good to win when you don’t play well, because we’ve played better than that and lost.”

The win moved Marseille up to 12th place with 15 points, one behind Nantes, but a massive 17 adrift from PSG.

”Two wins in a row is good for our confidence – but we still have a long way to go,” Diarra said.

Earlier, Mario Pasalic scored for the second time in three matches as Monaco beat Angers 1-0 on Sunday to leapfrog Nice into sixth place.

The 20-year-old Croatian showed great composure to finish confidently from striker Lacine Traore’s pass in the 35th for his fourth goal of the season – the most by any player in Monaco’s low-scoring team.

Monaco, which finished in third place last season, is now one point behind fifth-place Caen and two behind Saint-Etienne, Angers and Lyon in the fight for second place behind runaway leader PSG.

PSG won 1-0 at Rennes on Friday night thanks to a late goal from Argentina winger Angel Di Maria to maintain its unbeaten start and move 10 points clear at the top.

Earlier, Nice missed the chance to close the gap on the top five after being held to a 0-0 home draw by struggling Lille, which dropped to 16th spot.

Winger Hatem Ben Arfa, who is pushing for a France recall after scoring seven league goals, was behind Nice’s best efforts under the watchful eye of Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps – who names his squad on Thursday for a friendly against Germany.

In the 60th minute, Ben Arfa embarked on one of this trademark solo runs from midfield, quickly switching feet with superb balance before forcing goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama into a smart save.

With 10 minutes left, Ben Arfa’s poorly cleared free kick fell to striker Valere Germain and after his shot was saved on the line by defender Renato Civelli, midfielder Mahamane Traore headed against the crossbar.

Zambia defender Stoppila Sunzu almost won it for Lille in stoppage time when his header was cleared off the line.