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Real escape with hope of progress

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By ESPN Staff

Ligue 1: Lille host Lyon in 'most important game'

PARIS, May 5 (Reuters) - Ambitious Lille, chasing a Champions League place, play the most important match of their season when they host champions Olympique Lyon on Saturday.

With two games left the northern side hope to remain in third place and make it into the elite European tournament's last qualifying round.

Nearest rivals Olympique Marseille, who entertain relegated Racing Strasbourg, are level on 58 points with Lille and trail them on goal difference.

'This is certainly the most important match of the season,' said Brazilian defender Rafael. 'It's a huge challenge for us. We want to play in the Champions League again, it's one of the goals we set before the start of the season.'

Lille slumped to a 4-2 defeat at neighbours Racing Lens last weekend.

'We can't afford a home defeat on Saturday as our last match will be a tough one at Rennes who are still in the race for a place in Europe,' Rafael said.

'It's going to be a great game because Lyon will come here to take revenge after we beat them at Gerland (stadium).'

The proteges of Claude Puel stunned the French champions 3-1 in December, handing them their first defeat on home soil for more than a year.

'We are kind of their bugbear as we beat them three times over the last two years,' Rafael said.

Marseille, frustrated after they lost to arch-rivals Paris St Germain in the French Cup final last week, can still save their season.

Their convincing 2-1 success at Auxerre on Wednesday put them fourth in the standings.

Marseille have lost only one match in their last nine league outings and thrashed Nancy 6-0 two weeks ago.

Strasbourg have not won a Ligue 1 match for about two months and were relegated last week after losing 3-1 to Nancy on their home turf.

Stade Rennes, fifth after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Paris St Germain on Wednesday, travel to St Etienne.

Les Verts celebrate the 30th anniversary of their European Cup final loss to Bayern Munich next week and were crushed 4-0 by Olympique Lyon last week.

They learned on Wednesday that their coach Elie Baup had turned down the offer of a new contract with the club.