Taiwo strike sees Marseille retain cup
A late goal from Taye Taiwo gave Marseille a 1-0 edge over Montpellier in the French League Cup final on Saturday, becoming the first team to retain the trophy in its 17-year history.
Nigeria international left-back Taiwo rifled home with ten minutes left to play, settling a game that had been high on physical commitment, but lacking in attacking inspiration from either side.
"It was a complicated, well-contested match," said Marseille coach Didier Deschamps after winning his third major trophy in under two seasons. "There was lots of character and courage. It's great that the players are rewarded, and also all our supporters."
Montpellier, appearing in their first final since losing to Auxerre in the 1994 French Cup decider, succeeded in disturbing Marseille's rhythm, but were unable to put the holders' defence under serious pressure. Marseille's defeat of Bordeaux in last year's final was the catalyst for their first French league title since 1992 and they will now hope for a similar boost in the current Ligue 1 title race, as they trail leaders Lille by a point with seven games remaining.
"Another error and we concede a goal from a set-piece," rued Montpellier coach Rene Girard. "Their [Marseille] experience paid. I'm proud of the boys, we didn't give up. That's football. You need a winner and a loser, and tonight it's us."
A rugged opening witnessed several crunching challenges and there was a seventh-minute setback for Marseille when holding midfielder Stephane Mbia had to be replaced by Charles Kabore after appearing to jar his knee.
The fans at Stade de France had to wait until the 20th minute to see either goalkeeper make a save, with long-serving former Montpellier captain Laurent Pionnier boxing away a Lucho Gonzalez free-kick. Marseille's Steve Mandanda was the first goalkeeper to be seriously tested, however, as two minutes later he had to kick away a close-range effort from Jamel Saihi after a high ball was allowed to bounce in the Marseille area.
Mathieu Valbuena, operating in a loose, central position, was Marseille's most enterprising player throughout and he came within inches of breaking the deadlock in the 32nd minute when he shook the left-hand post with a half-volley. Cyril Jeunechamp then tested Mandanda with a rising drive from distance, before Souleymane Diawara produced a finely timed challenge to halt the progress of marauding Montpellier forward Souleymane Camara.
Despite boisterous support from both sets of fans, the game remained scrappy and low on technical quality in the second half. Andre Ayew twice threatened with his head for the holders, first obliging Pionnier to make a save and then guiding the ball fractionally wide of the far post from Valbuena's inswinging corner.
With extra-time beckoning, Marseille finally made the breakthrough in the 80th minute. Montpellier failed to clear the ball from a free-kick, allowing Taiwo to drive the ball home through a crowd of players with his weaker right foot and keep the French Cup trophy at Stade Velodrome for at least another year.
"I'm very happy because it's me that scored," said Taiwo, who is expected to leave Marseille at the end of the season. "Montpellier didn't give up until the end. They are a good team, but it's always difficult to play against Marseille."