FC Nantes Atlantique escaped relegation by winning on a dramatic last day of the French Ligue 1 season.
By Chris Burke
FC Nantes Atlantique saved themselves from relegation on the last day of the Ligue 1 season with a 1-0 victory over FC Metz, while defeats for SM Caen and SC Bastia saw them both demoted. Stade Rennais FC clinched the UEFA Cup spot.
Serge Le Dizet had said his Nantes team needed to learn from Liverpool FC's exploits in the UEFA Champions League final and, though their achievement may be on a different scale, they incredibly preserved their Ligue 1 status against the odds. Les Canaris had looked certainties to go down before the evening's action, but they fulfilled their part of the bargain when Mamadou Diallo threw himself to head in Nicolas Savinaud's cross at the far post on 40 minutes.
That alone was not enough to extend the eight-time champions' 42-year stay in the top flight, but defeats for Bastia and Caen sealed an unlikely rescue operation. 2-0 losers to RC Strasbourg after late strikes from Mamadou Niang and Alexander Farnerud, SC Bastia went down in 19th place, while Caen were undone in a 3-2 thriller away to FC Istres.
Rafik Saïfi netted for already-relegated Istres after just four minutes, but despite Sébastien Mazure's goal on 28 minutes, Istres hit back through Franck Chaussidière and Azzedine Ourahou. Anthony Deroin gave Caen hope on 73 minutes, but it was not enough to save them from rejoining Ligue 2 a year after having been promoted.
AC Ajaccio made sure of not becoming entangled in the last day calculations with a 3-1 win at home to FC Sochaux-Montbéliard. The 14th-placed side lost Matial Robin to a red card after the hour, but Waldir Lucas Pereira and Abdelnasser Ouadah had already cancelled out Kader's early goal by that point and Laurent Merlin made sure of their survival three minutes from time.
Rennes in Europe
FC Girondins de Bordeaux were also flirting with disaster going into the last day, but a point was enough to spare the 1999 champions after they played out a 3-3 draw at home to Olympique de Marseille. Peguy Luyindula hit the target twice for the visitors, but they finished fifth on goal difference behind Rennes, who qualified for Europe despite succumbing 1-0 to Pauleta's goal for Paris Saint-Germain FC.
In the battle for the second UEFA Champions League direct qualification berth, LOSC Lille Métropole held on with a 3-1 triumph away to AJ Auxerre, keeping them four points clear of AS Monaco FC, who face the qualifying round after drawing 1-1 with AS Saint-Etienne at the Stade Louis II. In the day's other games, champions Olympique Lyonnais drew 0-0 with OGC Nice and RC Lens beat Toulouse FC 1-0.