x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Marseille on road to break 16-year drought

Marseille are looking to take another step towards a glorious finale to the 2008-09 season when they meet Shakhtar Donetsk in the Uefa Cup quarter-final first leg tonight.

Marseille's coach Eric Givets, centre, wants his team to make up for their Uefa Cup quarter-final defeats in previous years.
Marseille's coach Eric Givets, centre, wants his team to make up for their Uefa Cup quarter-final defeats in previous years.

Marseille are looking to take another step towards a glorious finale to the 2008-09 season when they meet Shakhtar Donetsk in the Uefa Cup quarter-final first leg tonight. L'OM, as they are known, have not won a trophy of any kind since 1993 - but they are battling on two fronts to bring their 16-year wait to an end. Eight wins from 11 league matches this year have lifted the club to second place, just one point behind leaders Lyon, in France's Ligue 1, while the prospect of a tough but winnable fixture against Ukrainian champions Shakhtar has raised hopes among Marseille's fanatical following that the club can go one step further than in 1999 and 2004, when they reached the Uefa Cup final only to lose to Parma and Valencia respectively.

Marseille coach Eric Gerets - who has a sparkling CV from spells at Lierse, Club Bruges, PSV Eindhoven and Galatasaray - is under pressure because the club owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus has set him the target of a top-two finish in the league and winning a piece of silverware. Gerets insists Ligue 1 is the priority, but admits Marseille can achieve something special in Europe's second-biggest competition.

"You don't get the opportunity to get through to a European semi-final every year," said Gerets. "It would be special for me because I've been knocked out of this competition in the quarter-finals twice. "Getting to Ukraine is tiring but I'd be willing to spend 25 hours in a plane for a European semi-final. If we fail to control the game Shakhtar are good enough to score three or four goals, so we'll need to be careful."

Gerets has the advantage of being able to call upon a spy in the camp - Brandao left Shakhtar after six-and-a-half seasons to join Marseille in January. The big Brazilian striker is ineligible for tonight's game but has travelled with the squad to give Gerets inside information about his former club. Brandao is the only notable absentee for the visitors, while the Serbia midfielder Igor Duljaj is missing (leg injury) for the hosts. Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu is a wily veteran of the European scene and after winning three domestic titles he is looking to guide the club to their first continental semi-final.

The hosts overcame Tottenham 3-1 on aggregate in the last 32 before beating CSKA Moscow 2-1 in the last 16, while Marseille needed penalties and extra-time to defeat Dutch duo FC Twente and Ajax respectively. A semi-final against their arch-rivals PSG awaits if Paul Le Guen's side from the French capital see off Dynamo Kiev. jeastham@thenational.ae