Olympique de Marseille have the advantage in their UEFA Cup Round of 16 tie against AFC Ajax, but they allowed the visitors to reduce the deficit and might have won by more against a side down to ten men for the last 47 minutes.
Marseille raced into a 2-0 lead with strikes from Benoît Cheyrou and Mamadou Niang in the opening 33 minutes, but Luis Suárez pulled one back from the penalty spot and although Gregory van der Wiel was dismissed before the break, Ajax kept the deficit at a single goal. That leaves the tie open for when the two former European champions meet again at the Amsterdam ArenA next Wednesday.
Cheyrou broke the deadlock in the 19th minute, pouncing on a pass from Hatem Ben Arfa and, from 20 metres out, slotting past Kenneth Vermeer, preferred in the Ajax goal to fit-again Maarten Stekelenburg. Ajax then lost Rasmus Lindgren to injury and OM doubled their advantage on 33 minutes with a neat right-foot finish from Niang.
Ajax did not wilt, however, and within three minutes they had an away goal. Eyong Enoh was fouled in the box by Vitorino Hilton and Suárez made no mistake from the spot. In the succeeding six minutes, though, Van der Wiel was booked twice, leaving Ajax a man short and forcing Marco van Basten to sacrifice midfielder Urby Emanuelson for defender Bruno Silva.
Ajax's back line were put under plenty of pressure in the second half, but Marseille could find no way through. The closest they came was when Cheyrou twice drilled shots at Vermeer and Boudewijn Zenden tested the keeper with a curling effort with five minutes to go. Thomas Vermaelen, as well as Van de Wiel, will be suspended next week. Marseille will be without Laurent Bonnart after the defender suffered a thigh injury at the end of the game that is expected to sideline him for at least two months.