Belief is what saw Olympique de Marseille through to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of FC Internazionale Milano, according to defender Souleymane Diawara. "We never give up," the experienced centre-half told UEFA.com.
Protecting a one-goal first-leg lead at the home of the 2010 European champions was never going to be an easy assignment, yet for 75 minutes Didier Deschamps' charges coped with everything their adversaries threw at them, Diawara topping the UEFA.com users' Player Rater for his command performance in defence.
However, Diego Milito levelled the tie on aggregate with a strike that might have caused lesser sides to fold. Not so Marseille, who snatched the all-important away goal through substitute Brandão in added time, an effort that sent Les Olympiens through, even though Giampaolo Pazzini scored a penalty with the last kick of the game.
"Even when they scored we never gave up because we knew we had the wherewithal to score ourselves," Diawara told UEFA.com. "We didn't allow ourselves to get disheartened. We had to believe and that's what we did. The aim was to stick to our game. We knew it would be a hard match but we didn't sit back. We tried to play and to take our chances when they came."
Marseille went close after 18 minutes when Loïc Rémy nodded wide, and again with 18 minutes to go when Alou Diarra's header was saved by Júlio César. Milito then took the wind out of the visitors' sails with a predatory finish, but Brandão was equally ruthless when he fired past his compatriot in the Inter goal with extra time looming. It proved the decisive blow.
"We never give up," added Senegalese international Diawara. "We proved that when we scored in added time against Borussia Dortmund [on matchday six] to qualify from our group. We said at half-time that whatever happens, even if they score, we will not lie down. We believed until the very end and in the end we were rewarded."
Although they eventually conceded once more, after keeper Steve Mandanda gave away a penalty, OM's display was all about tactical discipline and exemplary defending. As the most experienced player in the Olympiens' rearguard, Diawara – a back-to-back title winner with FC Girondins de Bordeaux in 2008/09 and Marseille the following season – was a towering figure, blocking a goal-bound Wesley Sneijder shot early on, making countless aerial interventions as Inter peppered corners and free-kicks into the area, and executing a crucial tackle on Pazzini as the Italian international threatened to home in on goal.
The 33-year-old was entitled to feel pleased with his evening's work. "It is nice to be voted the best player but the most important thing is that we qualified. It was crazy in the dressing room afterwards. It was an explosion of joy because we are so happy at this huge result. It's great to have a French club in the quarter-finals. Unfortunately Olympique Lyonnais are out so now we are France's sole representative, but we will keep going as far as possible.
"The supporters were tremendous tonight. Whenever they come away from home they travel in numbers and give us their full backing. Even when we have been having a hard time in the league they have been there for us and tonight they were rewarded for their loyalty with this result."
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