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In fact it's a gas

Relations between Marseille and Paris St-Germain have always been somewhat poisonous, so it came as little surprise to hear PSG accuse OM of filling the visitors' dressing room with toxic fumes before Sunday's Ligue 1 clash at the Stade Vélodrome.

In what has been enigmatically described as the 'ammonia incident', PSG went down 1-0 to their arch-rivals after having to get changed in a cloud of foul-smelling gas that Marseille claim was merely a by-product of cleaning chemicals.

In the spirit of L'Oréal adverts, here comes the science bit, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin's 'Chemical of the Week' feature (don't you love Google?): 'Almost everyone has smelled the sharp, penetrating odour of ammonia, NH3. More than a sniff of this toxic, reactive, and corrosive gas can make one very ill indeed. Ammonia is pretty nasty stuff. Nevertheless, it is also an extremely important bulk chemical widely used in fertilizers, plastics, and explosives.'

Swooning Paris coach Laurent Fournier ingested so much of the noxious pong that he needed medical attention after a dizzy spell. It is entirely possible that, as a major component of smelling salts, helpful OM staff used more ammonia to revive him.

'It's just not acceptable,' he croaked before watching his team lose to Marseille for the first time in ten meetings. After the game, he said: 'We had to wait for an hour before we could go into the changing room. It was a real shame in terms of our preparation,' PSG players and staff complained of stinging eyes and an unbearable taste in their throats. Not just the pre-match onions, then?

OM president Pape Diouf said both dressing rooms were cleaned following an unspecified 'sewage problem'. 'I tried to find out what happened,' said 'Inspector' Diouf. 'I have discovered that the two changing rooms were cleaned with the same product. But as we were the home team, our medical staff must have arrived earlier than their medical staff and undoubtedly will have aired our changing room.

'You know how these things tend to escalate. It only takes one person to say that something smells strong and then the situation gets out of hand,' he said, sounding like a man accused of breaking wind in a lift.

'I think they got the dose wrong,' deadpanned PSG sporting director Jean-Michel Moutier.

The whole episode threatened to overshadow Fabien Barthez's return from a suspension. But that just wouldn't be Barthez. The goalkeeper, you may remember, was banned for six months after he spat at referee Abdellah El-Achiri at the end of a 'friendly' between Marseille and Wydad Casablanca in February. Sunday marked his return, and it was like the shiny-headed maverick had never been away.

He served up his usual blend of the madcap and the magnificent, making some fine saves while needing some luck just to stay on the pitch. In just the tenth minute he charged out of the area and clattered into Bonaventure Kalou, evoking memories of Harald Schumacher's infamous challenge on Patrick Battiston in the 1982 World Cup. Now, as then, the referee declined even to award a free-kick, despite Kalou's assertion that Barthez came out more 'with the intention of hurting me' than of playing the ball.

The result leaves neither of the country's two best-supported clubs looking likely to halt Lyon's march to a fifth successive title. Gérard Houllier's side continue their serene progress, reducing their rivals to thinly-veiled accusations of favouritism from match officials.

The latest coach to have a pop was Ajaccio boss Rolland Courbis, whose side fell to 16th after a 3-2 defeat at the Stade Gerland. 'I don't feel as though we lost this match. Call me a bad loser, but there were a series of circumstances that went against us,' said Courbis, conveniently forgetting that Ajaccio's goals came from a penalty and an own goal.

'I continue to think that Lyon do not need protection to show that they are a great team with great coaching staff. But when you are on the bench as a coach you tend to look at the referee in the middle.'

Finally, Nancy coach Pablo Correa has been living up to his team's name by speaking of his hurt feelings at the lack of credit his side receive. The Lorraine outfit went eighth after a 2-0 win over Toulouse, but a tearful Correa said they were still dismissed as minnows.

'Some people judge Nancy from far away and say that we are a small club. I can understand why they think that, but it hurts,' he sniffed. 'It's the same kind of pain you felt at school when your mates would tell you that your girlfriend is ugly, even though you think she is the prettiest girl in the world.'

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