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Having lost crucial UEFA Champions League games by making "silly mistakes" in recent seasons, captain Mamadou Niang says Olympique de Marseille have no room for error against AC Milan, describing their opening game as "very important, already crucial".
The sides that contested the inaugural UEFA Champions League final in 1993 reconvene at the Stade Vélodrome, but when it comes to the remembrance of things past, Niang is more concerned with recent history than Marseille's glory days. Reflecting on his team's last two group-stage tilts, the 29-year-old said: "These last two years we played well but we lost games by making silly mistakes. Those errors cost us some important results. It is up to us not to repeat them."
In that respect, OM will have to be on their toes from the first minute of their group-stage campaign, against a side that have won seven European Champion Clubs' Cups. They can also expect few favours from their other Group C rivals, nine-time European champions Real Madrid CF and hungry newcomers FC Zürich. "This match is very important, already crucial," explained Senegalese international Niang, adding: "We are confident. We want to give a good performance."
Milan are still finding their feet under new coach Leonardo, with up-and-down results in Serie A perhaps reflecting the upheaval that followed the summer departures of coach Carlo Ancelotti and playmaker Kaká, but Niang struggled to take too much comfort from that. "Even if Milan are having difficulties at the moment, a Champions League match is something very special," he said. "We will try and make the most of the space we create and we know they will want to make a good showing. I remember back in 2007, we were not in good shape when we went to play Liverpool FC at Anfield, but we still won."
Marseille are in better fettle this time around. Niang struck in Saturday's 2-1 win at Le Mans UC 72 which continued the club's unbeaten start in Ligue 1 – three wins and two draws – and the striker said he is happy about the way coach Didier Deschamps has the team playing. "The system is not a concern," he said, "I like playing 4-4-2 but we showed at Le Mans that we could also play 4-3-3. Whatever the formation, we want to do well against Milan."
Itching for action
The thrill of competing in the world's top club competition one more time has certainly got pulses racing in the Marseille dressing room, and Niang is itching to get started. "We respect all the teams. We are going to give it everything. We want to get something out of this game," he said, adding: "The motivation is here. We are all focused on the match. We will fight for 90 minutes. We know it is not going to be easy, but the eleven who start the game will all have the same motivation."
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