MARSEILLE - Olympique Marseille
and Manchester United battled to a dour 0-0 draw in their
Champions League last-16 first-leg match on Wednesday evening.
Marseille boss Didier Deschamps said before the game that three-times winners United lacked "fantasy" now names like Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo are long gone.
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With Ryan Giggs injured, Wayne Rooney still not firing, Dimitar Berbatov inconsistent and Nani flattering to deceive, the spark was indeed missing at the Stade Velodrome where the vibrant fans offered the only element of colour.
It was a game of few clearcut chances, with both defences in
dominant form, leaving the tie evenly poised going into the second
leg at Old Trafford in three weeks time.
"It was a disappointing game," United manager Alex Ferguson
told ITV. "They made sure they weren't going to concede a goal.
0-0 can be a dangerous score but we will be better at home."
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In a cagey opening period, United's Darren Fletcher had a
good chance when his sharp effort was smartly saved by Steve
Mandanda and Nani blazed over from a promising position.
Marseille enjoyed some good spells of possession without creating more the a couple of half chances. Former United
defender Gabriel Heinze looked particularly keen to impress, making a few
driving runs down the left, but Brandao's weak header was
practically all they had to show for their increased endeavour
in the second half.
Ferguson, who said before kick-off he feared Marseille's
power and noisy fans, left Paul Scholes on the bench despite his
injury-depleted squad but replacement Darron Gibson failed to
impose himself and the former England midfielder replaced him
for the last few minutes.
WORLD CUP REBEL
United left back Patrice Evra, a former Monaco player and a
France World Cup rebel, was booed on his every touch by the
Stade Velodrome crowd, but made some decent raids to link up with Wayne
Rooney as the striker drifted to the left and dropped deep to
try to make something happen in a largely turgid game.
He had two shots blocked while Portuguese winger Nani
flattered to deceive, slipping twice when in good positions as
the three-times European champions struggled to create chances.
The poor nature of the first half was summed up by the home
fans booing United for passing the ball back to keeper Edwin van
der Sar but the visitors were increasingly content to settle for
0-0 with centre back Chris Smalling looking solid on his first
big European occasion.
"Smalling was excellent," Ferguson said. "He gave a
tremendous example of centre back play and he is getting better
all the time."
A slightly blunted Marseille, who upped the tempo after the
break, were without main striker Andre-Pierre Gignac because of
a groin problem and playmaker Mathieu Valbuena came on as a late
substitute following his recovery from injury.
"It is not a bad result for us, in the first game it is very
important not to concede a goal," Marseille coach Didier
Deschamps said. "It was a hard game against a big team and my
players have done their best."
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