Montpellier hit by Belhanda ban
© AFP

Montpellier's chances of winning France's Ligue 1 for the first time suffered a major blow as playmaker Younes Belhanda was suspended for three matches, meaning he will not play for the rest of the season.

The 22-year-old Moroccan - earlier voted African player of the season - received the ban for his red card in last week's 2-2 draw with Evian after an altercation with opposing defender Cedric Mongongu, which then escalated into an all-out brawl.

He had already received a one-game ban last week for picking up three bookings in ten matches so the suspension imposed on Thursday will see him miss the home game against defending champions Lille on Sunday and the final Ligue 1 match against struggling Auxerre on 20 May.

He will serve out his ban either in the first league game of next season or if they are crowned champions in the Champions Trophy match.

Belhanda's 12 goals and four assists this season has played a major role in his side's surprise rise to the top and which sees them lead Qatari-owned big spenders Paris Saint Germain by three points while Lille are six points adrift.