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Mathieu Valbuena believes the pressure is off Olympique de Marseille now the French titleholders have qualified for the UEFA Champions League knockout stage for the first time this century. "We have nothing to lose," the midfielder told UEFA.com.
The Ligue 1 club have struggled in the group stage in recent years and started slowly again this season, losing their first two matches against FC Spartak Moskva and Chelsea FC. Yet a sequence of four consecutive victories, including Wednesday's 1-0 triumph over the English double winners, has powered Didier Deschamps' men into the last 16 as Group F runners-up.
Valbuena has been an inspirational figure in that run and the 26-year-old excelled again against Chelsea, posing numerous problems with his neat dribbling and intelligent passing, as well as striking Petr Čech's crossbar with a majestic first-half shot. Although OM failed to capitalise on their early pressure, waiting until the 81st minute to break the deadlock through Brandão, Valbuena was delighted with the vibrant display.
"We played very well in the first half," the French international said. "We combined well, our movement was good, and we had them in some difficulty. We knew we'd need to show aggression and determination to beat a strong Chelsea team. We did that and were rewarded with the victory." Valbuena was particularly pleased with the identity of the goalscorer, saying: "I'm happy for Brandão. He's been criticised a lot but nobody can fault the way he battles. This win will give everyone a lot of confidence."
With Marseille's group stage jinx consigned to history, Valbuena is targeting a major scalp in the next round. "We have the ambition to go as far as possible," the attacking player declared. "We've done what's expected of us. OM have a duty to impose themselves in Europe and to get at least this far. Now we know that over two games we can beat anybody.
There are several teams better equipped than us to win the UEFA Champions League, but it'll be up to us to raise our game and cause an upset."
Chelsea will be among those clubs regarded as favourites in next week's draw, despite their recent dip continuing in southern France. Čech conceded that this latest setback is a source of concern. "We can't say we're not concerned because [the poor form] has been going on for a long time. But we won't panic," the Czech Republic goalkeeper stressed. "We're in a situation where everything is going a little bit against us. You could see that for their goal. There were three or four deflections before the ball reached their guy in the middle and he tapped it in. This is the period we are in and we need to do better."
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