A penalty from Didier Drogba ensured Olympique de Marseille celebrated their 100th game on the European stage by snatching a crucial win in the first leg of their UEFA Cup third-round tie against FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Marseille, who were beginning their campaign in this tournament after departing the UEFA Champions League in December, started the match brightly with Steve Marlet hooking a close-range effort over the bar in the opening minute and Demetrius Ferriera Leite testing Viacheslav Kernozenko with a fierce drive from 20 metres. There was no let-up for the visitors, as Habib Beye's header forced the goalkeeper to get down quickly to make another save moments later.
Dnipro almost stole the lead against the run of play in the 15th minute as Volodymyr Yezerskyy took advantage of some lax defending in the Marseille penalty area to unleash an effort that cannoned off the post. Then Drogba, attempting to help out at the back, hit the loose ball against Serhiy Matiukhin and was relieved to see it bounce harmlessly wide of goal.
Dnipro put together their first period of concerted pressure midway through the first half and Matiukhin could have done better than steer his free header wide of the far post with home goalkeeper Fabien Barthez beaten. At the other end, Marlet found space for an unchallenged header from a corner but the ball struck Drogba's shoulder and was safely gathered by Kernozenko.
Marseille began the second half as they had finished the first and Drogba could not believe his misfortune when his well-struck effort thudded against the underside of the crossbar and bounced away to safety. But the striker did not have to wait much longer for a goalscoring opportunity, as Marlet was soon bundled over by Matiukhin in the penalty area. Despite slipping as he struck the spot-kick, Drogba found the net.
Marlet should have doubled Marseille's advantage in the 76th minute after being played in, but Kernozenko dived bravely at his feet to save. The striker was substituted moments later to join goalscorer Drogba on the bench as Marseille changed things around and opted for a stout defensive policy, denying Dnipro time and space to work any openings.
The tireless Ruslan Rotan tried his luck from 20 metres out in the closing seconds, but his shot did not trouble Barthez as Marseille easily held out to take the advantage ahead of Wednesday's second leg.