Football: Marseilles' defeat met by fan flare

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France

MARSEILLES' TROUBLED season sunk to a new low on Sunday when their 5- 1 French First Division defeat at St-Etienne was held up for 10 minutes when their fans hurled seats on to the pitch.

It was Marseilles' first defeat to their arch-rivals in 20 years. Installed as one of the title favourites at the beginning of the season, they are now eighth, 13 points adrift of the league leaders Monaco.

The players, who had been castigated by their new coach Bernard Casoni after a humiliating 3-0 Champions' League defeat at Feyenoord last Tuesday, had promised to react. Instead they collapsed and conceded five goals within an hour, including four by St-Etienne's Brazilian striker Alex, before Marseilles' Stephane Dalmat replied with a consolation goal in injury time.

"I'm ashamed for my family, for my friends and for the fans who came tonight. The situation has become tricky," Marseilles' former Blackburn defender Sebastien Perez said on Sunday night.

St-Etienne's goalkeeper, Jerome Alonzo, said: "The team are crumbling. I cannot understand how they could sink that low." Club sources said the winter break could see big changes, including the sale of five or six players. Marseilles have already sold Fabrizio Ravanelli, their highest- paid player, to Lazio.

Spain

JESUS GIL, the Atletico Madrid president, has offered irate fans their money back on season tickets following the latest setback at the club.

Atletico's extraordinary 2-1 defeat at their Estadio Vicente Calderon on Sunday - beaten by a Valencia side who finished the game with eight players - prompted angry taunts from home fans at Gil and his coach, Claudio Ranieri.

Gil shouted back: "What am I supposed to do?" But he later tried to ease the tension by offering a money-back guarantee to Atletico supporters.

"I've now given the order that from Monday anyone who wants can go to the club and get their money back on season tickets," Gil promised on Sunday. "I've got faith in Ranieri's efforts but, if other people haven't, then fine, don't come."

Atletico, 16th in the 20-team Spanish First Division, are just a point clear of the relegation zone. Gil admitted that without their former Leeds United striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who scored his 12th goal of the season against Valencia, the situation would be even worse. "The truth is that if Hasselbaink wasn't playing we'd be at the bottom of the table," Gil said.

Nigeria

FOUR ENGLISH-based players have been named in Nigeria's preliminary squad for next month's African Nations' Cup.

The Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu is the most high-profile inclusion, along with Chelsea's in-form left-back Celestine Babayaro. Luton Town's former Stevenage Borough defender Efe Sodje and the Birmingham City forward, Dele Adebola, are also in the squad for the tournament, which runs from 22 January to 13 February.

Nigeria's newly appointed coach is the Dutchman, Jo Bonfrere, who is in his second spell with the African country. He led their Under-23 side to an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta in 1996.

Armenia

SHIRAK GYUMRI clinched their third Armenian title with a 0-0 draw at last year's winners, Tsement Ararat, in the season's finale yesterday.

The match was rescheduled after Armenia's football federation rejected Tsement's 1-0 win, which would have given them their second straight league crown, because they believed the 4 December game was rigged.

As time was running out, the match referee Slavik Kazaryan first sent off a Shirak player and then awarded a highly controversial second penalty against them to give Tsement's striker Aram Akopyan another chance to redeem himself, after an earlier miss from the spot. Kazaryan was suspended and relieved from his job as the head of the federation's technical department.

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