Overseas Football: Marseille bans shock Johansson

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THE president of Uefa, European football's governing body, yesterday expressed surprise at the severity of the penalties imposed by the French Football Federation upon Marseille as a result of last year's Valenciennes match-rigging affair, writes Rupert Metcalf.

Lennart Johansson said: 'That (the club's) former general manager, Jean-Pierre Bernes, and president, Bernard Tapie, received lifetime bans from football was perhaps too severe a punishment. But that kind of decision can always be appealed in time.' He also confirmed that Marseille, who will be relegated to the Second Division at the end of the season, are no longer banned from European competition.

When the French authority was slow to react last year, Uefa excluded Marseille from the European Cup. 'Now that the FFF has made its decision, we lift our suspension,' Johansson said. The club are likely to qualify for the Uefa Cup, and are still in the French Cup.

Johansson believes the FFF wanted to make an example out of Marseille. 'There is so much cheating in many of the clubs down there, and this shows that this sort of thing is taken very seriously,' he said.

On-field business this weekend saw Barcelona gain an advantage in the quest for the Spanish title. Hristo Stoichkov, with two, Guillermo Amor and Enrique Estebaranz were on target in a 4-0 win at Celta Vigo. With three matches to play, Barcelona are two points behind Deportivo La Coruna, who were held 0-0 at Lerida.

With two games left in Germany, Bayern Munich, who are seeking a record 13th title, lead Kaiserslautern by two points after a 2-1 home win over Nuremberg. Thomas Helmer scored twice for Bayern, but Nuremberg are to protest to the German football association about his first goal. 'The ball really didn't go over the line,' Franz Beckenbauer, Bayern's coach, admitted. Television evidence supports the case of relegation-threatened Nuremberg, who have asked for a re-match.