EUROPA: Marseille Dream European Glory 25 Years After
MARSEILLE face Salzburg tomorrow within touching distance of their first European final in almost a decade and a half.
Goals from Florian Thauvin and Clinton Njie in last week’s Europa League semi-final first leg kept alive the French club’s quest for a first continental title since their triumph in the inaugural Champions League final in 1993.
They subsequently reached the Uefa Cup final in 2004, losing to Rafael Benitez’s Valencia in Gothenburg.
Success in Salzburg (kick-off 1905 GMT) would leave the American-owned Ligue 1 side facing serious opposition in the shape of Atletico Madrid or Arsenal.
They face off in tomorrow’s other semi-final tied at 1-1 after last week’s first leg at the Emirates in London.
In Marseille’s favour should they prevail in Austria is the fact that the May 16 final is being staged in Lyon, just a couple of hundred kilometres inland from their Mediterranean headquarters.
When American billionaire Frank McCourt bought the slumbering French giants in October 2016 after their worst finish — 13th — in Ligue 1 in 15 years he promised to restore the glory days of the once-dominant club.
With Rudi Garcia’s arrival as coach on a three-year contract and investment in new players Marseille finished fifth last season, and are now fourth, one point behind third-placed Monaco with three games of the season remaining.
But before their fans start booking accommodation for the final their team must see off a Salzburg side that have not lost at home all season and who beat Marseille 1-0 in the Europa League group phase.
Garcia for one was not taking anything for granted, declaring after last week’s win: “We have to remain humble, nothing’s done yet.
“If we can take everyone to the final in France that would be brilliant but we are not there yet.”
Garcia has good reason to inject a note of caution, judging by Salzburg’s escape act against Lazio in the quarter-finals.
Trailing 4-2 after the first leg in Rome and seemingly done and dusted the Austrian champions coached by Marco Rose wiped the floor with Lazio 4-1 in the second leg to progress 6-5 on aggregate.
“Against Lazio a lot of people thought we were dead and buried but we knew how to turn things around,” commented Salzburg’s Swedish-born Kosovo midfielder Valon Berisha.
Marseille though will be bitterly disappointed if they don’t hit the right notes in Mozart’s home city.
They breezed into the last four with a 5-2 aggregate rout of RB Leipzig, confirming they are on an upward trajectory under former Lille and Roma coach Garcia.
On the pitch last week’s scorer Thauvin is in enjoying the form of his life, playmaker Dimitri Payet is at his best again setting up both goals last week while Brazil midfielder Luiz Gustavo is proving an inspired signing.
In attack Garcia is counting on Valere Germain to regain his form having scored only one goal in the past two months.
The Marseille-born striker, who is due to start in place of injured Kostas Mitroglou, told AFP he’d often experienced these fallow spells but that hasn’t diminished his confidence “because I’ve also had fantastic months, like last August, or between December and February when I was scoring all the time”.
He can take heart from the example set by his compatriot Karim Benzema, who fired Real Madrid into the Champions League final yesterday with a double after a miserable run when he scored only once in 12 matches.