Marseille cruised into the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League with an unexpectedly straightforward 3-0 victory over Spartak Moscow at the Luzhniki Stadium tonight.
Mathieu Valbuena got Didier Deschamps' men off to the perfect start with a fine opener inside 20 minutes, and further strikes by Loic Remy and Brandao after the break ensured Marseille the margin of victory they required to progress with Spartak hopes hardly helped on the night by the dismissal of Brazilian forward Welliton shortly after the hour.
"It is an enormous satisfaction to have qualified, especially as we started badly by losing the first two games (against Spartak and Chelsea)," said Marseille coach Didier Deschamps, who guided Monaco to the 2004 final and captained Marseille to the trophy in 1993. "It is important for the club. I am a very, very satisfied coach this evening, both with the result and the spirit of the players. We had a lot of pressure on us from outside the club," he said.
His Spartak counterpart Valery Karpin said that the first goal had been crucial and predicted Marseille could go a long way in this season's competition. "I believe that Marseille can go far; the semi-finals, or even the final, because their players are of Champions League quality," he said.
The French champions almost opened the scoring inside the first minute when a free-kick from the right fell at the feet of Valbuena, who was unlucky to see his left-footed effort drift just wide of the far post with Andrei Dikan beaten. The home defence looked shaky early on and Valbuena dispossessed a dallying Yevgeni Makeev inside the Spartak area on five minutes but the chance came to nothing. Valbuena, who was on the scoresheet as France defeated England at Wembley last week, opened the scoring on 18 minutes. Gabriel Heinze created the opening when he reached Remy's mishit deep cross from the right flank to volley the ball back into the danger area, and Valbuena reacted quickly to turn and curl a delightful effort into the top corner of Dikan's net.
Spartak raised their game after going behind and Welliton typified their improvement with a superb run and cross which Stephane M'bia cleared at full stretch. Two minutes before the break Valeri Karpin's side came agonisingly close to drawing level when Makeev fired in a low cross which Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda parried into the path of two onrushing Spartak strikers, but neither Welliton nor Dmitri Kombarov could get a touch as the chance went begging.
Marseille doubled their lead in rather fortuitous circumstances nine minutes after the restart.
Brandao's cross was met with another miscue by Remy which span over the head of Martin Stranzl and landed perfectly back at the feet of the striker for a second effort, which he tucked away with a low finish off both posts. Spartak's chances took a further nosedive when Welliton received a straight red card after 64 minutes. The Brazilian had just collided with Mandanda in a strong challenge that sent both players to the deck. An altercation ensued and Welliton was dismissed for violent conduct.
It was game over for the hosts just four minutes later when Andre Ayew's interception fell into the path of Brandao, who took the ball past his marker before dispatching an unerring effort into the bottom-left corner of the Spartak net. It was almost four with 16 minutes remaining when Brandao again got in behind the home defence but Dikan reacted brilliantly to divert the ball for a corner and spare his side any further embarrassment.