PARIS (AP) — As its prolific attack came to life in the second half, Lille routed Nimes 5-0 in the French league on Sunday to strengthen its grip on second place and automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League.
After former France forward Loic Remy put Lille ahead in the 51st minute, forward Jonathan Bamba headed in the second goal and defender Zeki Celik made it 3-0 before top scorer Nicolas Pepe grabbed his 20th league goal of the season.
Only PSG striker Kylian Mbappe, with 30, has scored more than Pepe.
Portuguese forward Rui Fonte scored in injury time with his first of the campaign.
Lille is six points ahead of third-place Lyon with four games remaining. The team finishing third goes into the Champions League qualifying rounds.
Lyon is three points ahead of fourth-place Saint-Etienne, which beat strugglers Toulouse 2-0, thanks to two early goals from Slovenia striker Robert Beric.
Fifth-place Marseille fell five points behind Saint-Etienne after losing 2-1 at home to 12th-place Nantes.
Midfielder Samuel Moutoussamy put Nantes ahead in the 22nd with his first career league goal. Striker Mario Balotelli made it eight goals in 12 games since joining Marseille from Nice with a diving header from Lucas Ocampos’ cross in the 26th.
Brazilian midfielder Andrei Girotto stabbed home the ball in the 50th following a corner, with goal line technology showing goalkeeper Steve Mandanda scooping it away just after it crossed the line.
Balotelli went off with what appeared to be a thigh injury in the 60th.
Montpellier can move above Marseille and into fifth on goal difference if it beats league champion Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.
A hat trick came from a surprise source as defender Youcef Atal showed his scoring touch in Nice’s 3-0 home win against Guingamp.
The talented right back expertly volleyed in his first from the left side of the penalty area in the ninth minute. He got his second goal of the game midway through the second half, following a surging run from just inside the Guingamp half, and then slid in at the back post to complete his hat trick with a typical striker’s finish in the 73rd.
Nice climbed into seventh place and Reims dropped to eighth after drawing 1-1 at Angers.
Elsewhere, Stephanie Frappart became the first woman to referee a game in the French first division when she took charge of the 0-0 draw between Amiens and Strasbourg.
Caen beat Dijon 1-0 in their relegation battle, leapfrogging Dijon into 18th, the promotion-relegation playoff spot.
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