PARIS — Late goals from Andre Ayew and Romain Alessandrini guided Marseille to a 2-1 win over Monaco in the French league Sunday and maintained its chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League.
Marseille pushed for an equalizer for 78 minutes after Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho gave Monaco the lead inside the first minute and was finally rewarded when Ayew headed home from Alessandrini's cross from the right.
Marseille continued to attack relentlessly in the final 10 minutes and Alessandrini snatched the winner three minutes from time on a quick counterattack after being set up by Dimitri Payet.
"We needed to win. Even when we were down 1-0 we continued to believe in ourselves," Ayew said after netting his ninth goal this season. "The most important thing was not to concede a second goal. We missed many chances and lacked a cutting edge for a long period, but to our credit we kept the faith until the end."
With two matches remaining this season in the French league, Alessandrini's goal guaranteed a mouthwatering three-way final battle between Monaco, Marseille and Saint-Etienne for the final Champions League spot.
With Paris Saint-Germain on the brink of clinching a third consecutive title, six points clear of Lyon at the top of the standings, the main focus will be on the battle for third place over the next two weeks.
Third-place Monaco remains favorite to clinch it, leading both Saint-Etienne and Marseille by two points.
Marseille's hopes of finishing in the top three nearly ended with another poor defensive display at the Stade Velodrome, where it conceded 14 goals in its last six games.
Marseille fans unveiled a huge display of their traditional white and blue colors with the word "Conquer" painted in black letters, but it was Monaco who made the best start.
Moutinho took advantage of a poor clearance from Mario Lemina inside the first minute to slam the ball into the near post with a 20-meter shot past Steve Mandanda.
Marseille had most of the possession afterward but Monaco was the most dangerous team on the break, with Anthony Martial coming close in the 25th minute with a shot from inside the box that forced Mandanda to a good save after Alessandrini gave the ball away.
Bernardo Silva missed the chance to make it 2-0 at the stroke of halftime, hitting the post after Yannick Ferreira Carrasco burst into the area and released the ball for Martial, whose deflected attempt ended in the Portuguese midfielder's path.
Earlier, Saint-Etienne remained in the final sprint for Champions League qualification with a 5-0 thrashing of Nice.
A week after Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier criticized his players, the team produced its biggest win this season. Saint-Etienne captain Loic Perrin, who missed last week's 1-0 defeat to Bastia, celebrated his 250th match in the first division with the opening goal when he headed home from a corner after 25 minutes.
Jeremy Clement then volleyed home to double the hosts' lead five minutes before halftime with his first goal for Saint-Etienne.
Nice saw its attempts to get back in the game denied by 'keeper Stephane Ruffier, who stopped a fine shot from Alassane Plea moments before Mevlut Erding scored his eighth goal of the season.
Max Gradel and Kevin Monnet-Paquet added luster to the win on the break in the final 10 minutes.
Nice has yet to secure its future in the top flight, sitting in 15th place just five points above the relegation zone.
"Of course we are worried, we made a complete mess of this game," said Nice midfielder Eric Bautheac.
Anthony Mounier scored in injury time to give Montpellier a 1-0 win against 10-man Lens, keeping alive his team's hopes of qualifying for the Europa League.
Montpellier trails sixth-place Bordeaux by three points. A sixth-place finish will be enough to advance to Europe's second-tier competition if league leader Paris Saint-Germain also wins the League Cup later this month.
In a match of few chances for both sides, Montpellier struggled to find a cutting edge even after Loick Landre was sent off in the 64th minute for a second booking. But a calm Mounier snatched his eighth goal this season with an angled shot past Valentin Belon after turning a defender.
Last-place Lens was demoted to the second division last weekend.