Prolific Cvitanich key to Nice's rise

"A character" according to coach Claude Puel, OGC Nice striker Dario Cvitanich has already scored 12 Ligue 1 goals in his maiden season in France to help his side up to fifth.

Dario Cvitanich now has 12 Ligue 1 goals this season
Dario Cvitanich now has 12 Ligue 1 goals this season ©AFP/Getty Images

Another two goals at the weekend took Dario Cvitanich's tally for the season to 14 in all competitions and consolidated his side's hopes of qualifying for European competition.

Nice were 5-0 victors against Valenciennes FC on Sunday, marking their biggest win since February 1989 when under the charge of Nenad Bjeković. The Riviera outfit, who finished 13th last term, are now nine points off the Ligue 1 summit in fifth, their highest standing in more than two years.

Claude Puel's team have now won six successive home league games and have not lost at the Stade du Ray since a 1-0 defeat by AC Ajaccio on the opening day of the season. Cvitanich has played no small part in Nice's success, proving an instant hit in France following his unheralded summer move from AFC Ajax. The Buenos Aires-born striker has 12 league goals to his name already, leaving him behind only Paris Saint-Germain FC's Zlatan Ibrahimović (18) in the Ligue 1 scoring charts.

"It would be hard to imagine better results," said the 28-year-old. "I used to play as a second striker, but this season I'm the centre-forward. I still have room to improve but I like this role." It is not the first time 'Super Dario' has impressed in Europe, having enjoyed a relatively prolific season with Ajax in 2008/09. Subsequent loans to CF Pacuca in Mexico and CA Boca Juniors in his homeland put Cvitanich back on the map.

"He is the kind of player I like," said Puel. "He is a character, a good player who can keep the ball, run into space and finish." There were, however, inevitable question marks over how Cvitanich would adapt to life in Nice. Fellow Argentinian Renato Civelli, at the club for three years and in France on and off for seven, played a key role. "I asked a lot of the club and he helped me a lot," Cvitanich said.

Nice travel to Puel's former employers LOSC Lille on Sunday hoping to continue their ascent up the table. Level on points with FC Girondins de Bordeaux, who host PSG next weekend, fourth place is firmly in the sights of a club yearning for its first taste of European football – UEFA Intertoto Cup aside – since 1997/98.