AC Milan left their mediocre form in Italy's Serie A well behind them to beat Marseille 2-1 at the Stade Velodrome and strike a first blow in their UEFA Champions League group C on Tuesday.
Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi proved a thorn in the side of Didier Deschamps' side on a wet and rainy night in Marseille scoring a goal in either half of an entertaining match and coming close on several other occasions. Marseille scored early in the second half through Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze but despite plenty of pressure from the hosts Leonardo's visitors held on to claim their first ever victory in Europe over the team that beat them 1-0 to win the trophy in 1993.
"At the highest level only the result counts," said Deschamps. "We can say we did some things well...but like I said before the game Milan are Milan. They are among the great sides, used to this level. As is often the way Italian realism made the difference...we're now in a tricky position for the start of the competition."
Despite a string of poor league results Milan were worthy opponents for a determined Marseille side in an entertaining first half in which both sides missed several scoring chances. The first scare for the hosts came on 10 minutes when an onrushing Inzaghi almost made contact with a corner delivered to the near post, only for the ball to rebound off keeper Steve Mandanda before being cleared.
Marseille, being marshalled upfield by captain Mamadou Niang, gradually found their rhythm and soon began applying the pressure but Milan remained consistently dangerous on the counter-attack. Niang had a chance to open the scoring on 25 minutes when he picked up Bruno Cheyrou's pass on the right after the midfielder's initial shot was blocked, but his effort sailed over Marco Storari's crossbar.
Two minutes later Marseille were punished for leaving Inzaghi on his own at the far post as Milan opened the scoring. A superb Pato toyed with several Marseille players before Clarence Seedorf coolly picked up the ball, switched feet and spotted Inzaghi unmarked and heading to the back post, where he beat Mandanda with ease to claim his 43rd Champions League goal.
Marseille were then let off the hook in the 37th minute when Pato, unmarked near the penalty spot, failed to make full connect with a right wing cross as his tame effort missed its target. Two minutes later Inzaghi could have doubled Milan's lead but after an inch-perfect free kick from Andrea Pirlo the striker's head failed to make full contact with the ball.
Moments before the interval Cheyrou almost gave the hosts the equaliser but his well-struck volley from the edge of the area was saved by Storari.
Marseille came out fired up after the break and Argentine midfielder Lucho struck a superb first-time shot from the edge of the area which took a slight deflection before shaving Storari's left upright. That was a sign of things to come and on 48 minutes Heinze rose unchallenged to meet Cheyrou's free kick to head the ball through Storari's legs to claim his first ever Champions League goal.
Marseille defender Taye Taiwo then tested Storari with a stinging shot from the left of the area and a Cheyrou free kick then forced a double-fisted save from Storari, the rebound falling to Lucho whose first time effort went high and wide. A moment of madness from Milan midfielder Mathieu Flamini saw the former Arsenal man cautioned on the hour mark for a blatant two-footed tackle.
Inzaghi then pounced for the second time in the match, outfoxing the Marseille defence in the 74th minute to send a cross from the left past Mandanda with the outside of his right foot. Marseille rallied in the closing minutes but despite Deschamps sending on forward pair Hatem Ben Arfa and Fernando Morientes, Milan held on for what could prove a crucial victory.