It took 10 months and 19 matches, but Marseille’s Europa League dream died at the final hurdle on Wednesday, as they were well beaten 3-0 by Atletico Madrid in Lyon.
Playing Diego Simeone’s side is always a little like walking a tightrope, the slightest slip can result in disaster.
Rudi Garcia’s side now know that as well as anyone. One ill-conceived pass from goalkeeper Steve Mandanda was followed by a clumsy touch from Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa to allow Antoine Griezmann to score at a time when OM were the better side.
Minutes later, their fragile position became virtually impossible as talisman Dimitri Payet limped off clutching his hamstring, his hopes of leading the Ligue 1 side to their first European trophy in 25 years dashed.
From the French side’s perspective, Payet’s tears will be the lasting memory of an evening that had started with much promise.
The France midfielder had brilliantly released Valere Germain early on as the Spanish defence made a surprisingly shaky start. Thereafter, though, OM were asphyxiated in the manner of many before them.
Only a Kostas Mitrogolou header with 10 minutes left, which kissed the inside of the post and bounced agonisingly along the line, offered any genuine suggestion that they might get back into a match that was supremely managed by their opponents.
The outcome left the majority inside Parc OL disappointed. Marseille’s support dwarfed the allocation of around 11,000 that they were given by UEFA, many bedecked in the iconic kit of 1993 when Basile Boli’s header helped the Stade Velodrome club defy the odds to beat a watertight AC Milan and claim the inaugural Champions League.
There was to be no repeat of that miracle in Munich.
All the fireworks from France’s south were in the stands, where their support released flares and brought a terrific atmosphere to the showpiece occasion.
On the field, meanwhile, a tame effort from Clinton Njie which ended up going out for a throw in summed up their attacking efforts.
It was ironic, therefore, that it was one of their own who did the damage at the other end of the field. Antoine Griezmann – a Marseille fan as a child – twice provided the cutting edge that was hopelessly lacking in the French side, while Gabi rubbed salt into the wounds with a third late on.
Marseille could not have argued for any better.
Worse may follow for Garcia’s men. They go into the final weekend of the season needing a victory over Amiens and results elsewhere to go there way to stand any chance of Champions League football next season. And of course they face this challenge without Payet.
The captain’s tears might not be the last shed on the Old Port before the week is out.