Olympique de Marseille took an impressive stride into the UEFA Cup semi-finals when they withstood all that FC Internazionale could throw at them at the San Siro and then scored a late goal to add to their 1-0 advantage from the first game.
The defeat, Inter's first in ten ties against French opposition, put the seal on an unhappy European season for the Milan club who went out of the UEFA Champions League after the group stage and were hoping to make amends in this competition.
However, coach Alberto Zaccheroni and his team can have no complaints after Marseille built their success on a superb defensive display that offered Fabien Barthez maximum protection. Then with 26 minutes remaining Camel Meriem broke away and scored a magnificent solo goal to ease the visitors' passage into the last four.
After defending a free-kick on the edge of their penalty area, the ball was switched to the left where Meriem, who last week missed a decent chance to put Marseille two ahead in the first leg, had a clear run. His side-footer was played just out of reach of Francesco Toldo and into the net off the base of the post.
Inter, bidding to become the first team to reach five UEFA Cup finals, were disappointed that despite all their pressure they were unable to put Barthez under sustained pressure.
Cruz lets Barthez escape
When he was called upon, the French international was brave and commanding and was quick to leave his line and deal with any crosses that Inter swung over. Barthez was grateful in the 52nd minute when the hard-working Julio Cruz shot tamely at him after Cristiano Zanetti had played him in with a fine through-ball.
Almeyda off target
In the first half Cruz, who had come in for the injured Christian Vieri, had turned the ball across adroitly and when it was only partially cleared Matías Almeyda scooped a great chance over the bar.
Maybe with Vieri involved Inter would have put these opportunities away and the outcome would have been different. An earlier opening had arisen for Kily González but his timing was awry as the ball sliced past the upright. Obafemi Martins did well to win a header at the far post but put it wide while Cruz also came close from a similar opening.
Marseille knew it would be a struggle as Inter fought to claw back the deficit from six days ago. And they were not helped by the absence of suspended striker Didier Drogba, booked in the first game after celebrating his winning goal too forcefully.
As expected coach José Anigo brought in Ahmed Hossam 'Mido', who was suspended last week, to play as a lone front runner and had Steve Marlet available on the bench after injury. Marlet proved a handful when he appeared in the second half and twice Toldo had to be at his best to foil him.
At the other end Inter continually ran up against a formidable roadblock in the shape of Marseille's three central defenders, Abdoulaye Méïté, Brahim Hemdani and Habib Beye who together made sure that Cruz and Martins had little room in which to work.
Whenever a Marseille marker was out of position another would move quickly to close the gap and that commitment and organisation was replicated all over the pitch as they gradually squeezed the life and ambition out of the home team.
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