Since making his France debut six months ago Mathieu Valbuena has gone from strength to strength, and the 26-year-old showed FC Spartak Moskva how dangerous he can be as Olympique de Marseille reached the UEFA Champions League knockout stage with a 3-0 Group F win in Russia.
He may have been the smallest player on the pitch at just 1.67m, but the attacking midfielder stood head and shoulders above everyone else with an all-action performance, capped by an excellent 18th-minute goal which set Marseille on the road to a victory that repaid with interest a 1-0 Matchday 1 defeat in France.
"I managed to score a very good first goal and that helped us relax," he said. "We pressed for a second and were a bit fortunate to get one, and that helped kill the game off.
I thought we played really well, and the most important thing is that we are through to the knockout stage."
Valbuena's opener was reward for a bright start from the visitors, with Spartak oddly subdued given how much was at stake. "We started really well, which was very important, and of course we managed to get an early goal," said Valbuena. "Our coach, Didier Deschamps, told us we had to keep our concentration throughout the match, especially early on, and I think that was a key factor in the victory."
Spartak only made an impact towards the end of the first period, with striker Welliton causing the Ligue 1 titleholders problems with his pace and movement. However, his side's inability to crown their neat approach play with an incisive final pass meant Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda hardly had a save to make.
Marseille were the better team by far," said Spartak's Irish international winger Aiden McGeady. "We had to win, but found ourselves 1-0 down after 18 minutes. They scored some great goals. They got a bit of luck perhaps with the second, but it was just a bit unfortunate for us that it wasn't our night."
Second-half strikes from Loïc Rémy and Brandão either side of Welliton's dismissal made the points safe for OM. "We stuck to the plan our coach had given to us and scored three goals, which is excellent," concluded Valbuena. "Everyone is ecstatic at the moment."
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