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'A good day for a football miracle' was the bold message on the cover of Borussia Dortmund's match programme, and how prophetic those words proved to be, though it was Olympique de Marseille who tested the bounds of the possible to take their place in the last 16 to leave forward André Ayew savouring "a match that will live long in the memory".
The miracle, of course, was meant to come from the hosts, with Jürgen Klopp's men obliged to win by at least four goals to stand any chance of finishing runners-up to Arsenal FC in Group F. They threatened to pull it off too, taking a 2-0 lead just after the half-hour, but with Olympiacos FC beating the Gunners in Greece, the scoreline in Dortmund was starting to look irrelevant – for both teams.
Marseille's hopes rested on conjuring a comeback win, and that barely seemed worth countenancing when they began the 85th minute with just Loïc Rémy's first-half header to show for their efforts. Even when Ayew nodded in from a Morgan Amalfitano corner there was little sense of what lay in store, but substitute Mathieu Valbuena shook up the group dynamic one final time with a stunning run and shot three minutes from the end.
"It was very pleasing and it proved that we're men, that we're determined and never give up," said Ayew after leaving the jubilant Marseille dressing room. "At 2-1, we knew we still had a chance. We tried to score again quickly after the break; we didn't quite manage it, but I was fortunate enough to score from a corner to make it 2-2. After that, we told ourselves we had nothing to lose, and that we had to go for it and create a surprise.
We didn't give up and we showed that the game isn't over until the referee blows his whistle."
The 21-year-old also praised his side's focus in the final moments, when a goal for the German champions would have snatched their dream away again. "We were very happy when the third goal went in, but the match wasn't finished yet," he explained. "We'd come a long way, but we owed it to ourselves to put in a huge defensive effort to keep our lead and go through. It's a match that will live long in the memory, and even longer if we can continue through to the quarter-finals."
Amalfitano also had one eye turned to the future, with Marseille still finding their feet in Ligue 1 following a difficult start to the campaign. "This will be crucial for the rest of the season," said the midfielder, who served up an excellent cross for Rémy's goal in first-half added time before helping Ayew hit the equaliser. "We're building something and trying to lift our heads up again. This helps us go forward with a lot of confidence. Little by little we're progressing, but we still need to work hard to avoid another first half like the one tonight."
For Dortmund, confirmed as the bottom side in the section, there were few positives to take away from their final European outing this term. "We started really well and were on course for a big win, but what came after was really frustrating," said forward Shinji Kagawa. "We have a very young team and lots of our players lack experience of European football.
The Champions League has shown us that Dortmund are still lacking something if we want to become one of the top teams."
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