Marseille sparkle to reach Champions League last 16
Moscow: French champions Marseille qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League with a convincing 3-0 victory over nine-time Russian champions Spartak Moscow.
Goals by French internationals Mathieu Valbuena and Loic Remy and one from Brazilian Brandao saw the 1993 champions through to the knockout stage with one match to spare.
The hosts finished the match with 10 men as Welliton was sent off in the 63rd minute for pushing over Souleymane Diawara.
While both sides can finish on the same total of points, Marseille would progress by virtue of a better head-to-head record between the two teams as they were beaten 1-0 in the reverse fixture in September.
It is the first time in 11 years that Marseille have reached the latter stages of the competition - a fact that surprised coach Didier Deschamps.
"Really? I didn`t know that," said Deschamps, who guided Monaco to the 2004 final and captained Marseille to the trophy in 1993.
"It is an enormous satisfaction to have qualified, especially as we started badly by losing the first two games (against Spartak and Chelsea).”
"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."
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 side suffered a blow shortly before the match when French international striker Andre-Pierre Gignac was ruled out because of a painful hamstring he had already felt in training on Monday.
However, they shrugged off both his absence and any after-effects from a disrupted journey to Moscow on Monday with an assured display from the start.
Valbuena, who scored in France`s 2-1 friendly win over England last week, gave the hosts an early scare as his snap shot from the right side of the area drifted just wide of the far post.
The lively attacking midfielder made no mistake in the 18th minute, however, as he turned and curled a brilliant shot into the top-right corner after being picked out by veteran Argentine full-back Gabriel Heinze.
The visitors doubled their lead through a bizarre goal in the 54th minute.
Remy completely sliced an attempted half-volley from Brandao`s left-wing cross but the ball looped fortuitously over his marker`s head and the France striker pounced to ram in a low shot that hit both posts before going in.
The hosts` chances diminished further in the 63rd minute when Welliton saw red.
The Brazilian striker collided heavily with Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda as he tried to get on the end of a cross, and when Diawara chided him with a sly knee, Welliton reacted by pushing him over.
Alerted by his linesman, referee Wolfgang Stark wielded the red card but solely in the direction of the Spartak man.
It was game over in the 68th minute as a careless pass by a Spartak defender was seized on by Andre Ayew, who found Brandao, and the former Shakhtar Donetsk forward took his chance brilliantly, rifling the ball into the far corner from the edge of the area.
Brandao could have doubled his tally shortly afterwards but his shot was brilliantly turned away for a corner by Spartak goalkeeper Andriy Dykan.