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May 18, 2013

David Beckham assists in home finale

Never a stranger to the big stage, David Beckham was finally overwhelmed and reduced to tears as he went out in a burst of fireworks and cheers Saturday in his final home game before retirement.

Beckham rolled back the years with a vintage performance as Paris Saint-Germain celebrated its Ligue 1 title triumph with a routine 3-1 victory over Brest.

Beckham announced he would retire at the end of this season in midweek and was handed the captain's armband for Saturday's game before producing a performance worthy of his peak years, which included an assist.

PSG has one more away game left in its season, at Lorient on May 26.

"To finish my career here is special. Paris is the most beautiful place in the world. I'm sad to go. I feel a lot of satisfaction and emotion. Tonight is the end of my career, for sure," Beckham said. "I've done my time at all the clubs where I've been, be it Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy.

"Now, we'll see what happens. After a 22-year career, I'm going to take a few months off to relax with my family. I said before that, one way or another, I would stay in Paris. It's special for me here and I want to continue to be part of PSG, one way or another."

PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti said it was unlikely that Beckham would feature in the last game of the season.

"We have to decide, but I don't think he will play. He will come with the team but I don't think he will play ... a plastic pitch is difficult for a 38-year-old," Ancelotti said.

Beckham agreed.

"We'll see," he said. "There's a plastic pitch next weekend. I ruptured my Achilles a few years ago, so it's not great for it. Like I said, tonight was very special. I'll be part of the team next week. Whether I play or not, who knows?"

Zlatan Ibrahimovic threatened to overshadow the former England skipper's night on Saturday with two goals in between Blaise Matuidi's strike in the first half, but it was clear to see this evening belonged to Beckham.

Beckham made an emotional exit in the 82nd minute by hugging most of his teammates to a standing ovation from all at the Parc des Princes before making way for Ezequiel Lavezzi.

The crowd, which included former France President Nicolas Sarkozy, rose as one and players trotted over to give him a hug. The players from Brest also understood the moment. Charlison Benschop, who had scored Brest's consolation goal a minute earlier, walked over to shake his hand.

With chants of "Dav-eed Beckham, Dav-eed Beckham" echoing, Beckham looked to be on the verge of tears. He applauded the crowd and blew a kiss to his family in the stands. There was time for one more hug -- this one a bit longer from Ancelotti -- before he sat on the bench, maybe for the last time.

"It's a historic moment," the stadium announcer intoned as Beckham was substituted. Not that the crowd of 44,983 needed a reminder.

As Beckham walked off slowly, applauding the fans, his hair uncharacteristically bedraggled, his mother, Sandra, wiped away a tear in the stands.

Lavezzi gave Beckham a big hug on the sideline and then ruffled the fashion maven's hair. Beckham immediately swept it back into place.

After the final whistle, teammates hoisted Beckham off the ground and repeatedly tossed him in the air, putting a smile back on his face.

"I just feel that it's the right time. I feel that I've achieved everything that I could in my career. I wanted to go out as a champion," Beckham said. "I've finished my career in a team that has treated me like I've been here for 10 years."

Beckham was involved in the opening goal in the seventh minute. His free kick found Clement Chantome, whose pass released Ibrahimovic as he broke into the penalty area down the right side. Ibrahimovic struck the ball into the opposite corner.

Ibrahimovic almost scored a minute later when Beckham's superb long pass sent him through, but the imposing Swede hesitated between heading the ball over goalkeeper Alexis Thebaux or taking it past him. Theabaux snatched the ball from him.

Beckham set up the second goal in the 32nd with a corner kick from the left. Matuidi's poorly hit ball bounced into the ground and looped over Thebaux's outstretched arm.

Mario Licka fouled Matuidi 25 yards from goal, and Beckham seemed destined to be given a chance to score.

Instead, Ibrahimovic stepped up and curled the free kick around the wall and into the top corner for his 29th league goal of the season, with the former England international leaping into the striker's arms immediately afterward.

Early in the second half, Beckham almost set up striker Kevin Gameiro with a curling cross from the right that the striker headed wide.

While Brest got on the scoresheet in the 80th minute through Benschop, it paled into insignificance when Beckham was substituted.

Beckham was struggling to hold back the tears as the PSG players came to pay their respects to him, with the game coming to a complete standstill.

"I want to say thank you to everybody in Paris. To my teammates, to the staff, to the fans," Beckham told the fans after the game. "It's been very special to finish my career here. It could not have been any more special."

PSG clinched the league title last weekend, making Beckham the first English player to win a championship in four different countries after title success with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The rest of the match was conducted in a party-like atmosphere as PSG prepared to lift its first league crown since 1994.

Afterward, the players walked out onto a makeshift podium in the middle of the field and thanked the crowd.

When it was Beckham's turn to climb onto the podium, the Beatles song "Hello, Goodbye" rang out as the stadium's big screen beamed pictures of Beckham's short PSG career and flashed another message of thanks.

Draped in the English flag, Beckham sprinted onto the stage.

"Merci, Paris," he said. "I'm very sad to be leaving, but thank you."

Ligue 1 roundup

Also Saturday, St. Etienne kept its Champions League hopes alive by beating second-placed Marseille 2-0 at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.

First-half goals from Loic Perrin and Brandao were enough to move ASSE to within a point of third-placed Lyon, whose penultimate match at Nice was delayed until Sunday because of bad weather.

Victory for Lyon would put it out of sight with St. Etienne at least assured of a Europa League place following its Coupe de la Ligue success.

Marseille had sealed its Champions League place with a 10-game unbeaten run but that came to an end despite a late rally that saw Mathieu Valbuena hit the post.

Lille's European hopes remained in the balance as it was held 0-0 at Montpellier.

Grzegorz Krychowiak's first-half penalty helped Reims guarantee its Ligue 1 status after a battling 1-0 victory over Lorient, while Evian all but assured itself of Ligue 1 football next season by beating Valenciennes 2-0.

A slow start at home to Toulouse ensured Sochaux would go into the final game of the Ligue 1 season still not safe from relegation after losing 2-1.

Ajaccio's bid for survival will also go to the final day, though it moved to the brink of safety thanks to a 1-1 draw at Rennes.

Troyes took its fight for safety to the final weekend after exacting revenge on 10-man Bordeaux for its Coupe de France defeat in midweek, running out 1-0 winners.

Nancy was condemned to relegation following a 2-1 defeat to Bastia at Stade Marcel Picot. Anthony Modeste's 72nd-minute strike sent the Lorraine club down and ensured Bastia retained its own top-flight status.

Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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