Marseille and United draw blank

MARSEILLE - Olympique Marseille and Manchester United battled to a dour 0-0 draw in their Champions League last-16 first-leg match on Wednesday evening.

Marseille boss Didier Deschamps said before the game that three-times winners United lacked "fantasy" now names like Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo are long gone.

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With Ryan Giggs injured, Wayne Rooney still not firing, Dimitar Berbatov inconsistent and Nani flattering to deceive, the spark was indeed missing at the Stade Velodrome where the vibrant fans offered the only element of colour.

It was a game of few clearcut chances, with both defences in dominant form, leaving the tie evenly poised going into the second leg at Old Trafford in three weeks time.

"It was a disappointing game," United manager Alex Ferguson told ITV. "They made sure they weren't going to concede a goal. 0-0 can be a dangerous score but we will be better at home."

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In a cagey opening period, United's Darren Fletcher had a good chance when his sharp effort was smartly saved by Steve Mandanda and Nani blazed over from a promising position.

Marseille enjoyed some good spells of possession without creating more the a couple of half chances. Former United defender Gabriel Heinze looked particularly keen to impress, making a few driving runs down the left, but Brandao's weak header was practically all they had to show for their increased endeavour in the second half.

Ferguson, who said before kick-off he feared Marseille's power and noisy fans, left Paul Scholes on the bench despite his injury-depleted squad but replacement Darron Gibson failed to impose himself and the former England midfielder replaced him for the last few minutes.

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United left back Patrice Evra, a former Monaco player and a France World Cup rebel, was booed on his every touch by the Stade Velodrome crowd, but made some decent raids to link up with Wayne Rooney as the striker drifted to the left and dropped deep to try to make something happen in a largely turgid game.

He had two shots blocked while Portuguese winger Nani flattered to deceive, slipping twice when in good positions as the three-times European champions struggled to create chances.

The poor nature of the first half was summed up by the home fans booing United for passing the ball back to keeper Edwin van der Sar but the visitors were increasingly content to settle for 0-0 with centre back Chris Smalling looking solid on his first big European occasion.

"Smalling was excellent," Ferguson said. "He gave a tremendous example of centre back play and he is getting better all the time."

A slightly blunted Marseille, who upped the tempo after the break, were without main striker Andre-Pierre Gignac because of a groin problem and playmaker Mathieu Valbuena came on as a late substitute following his recovery from injury.

"It is not a bad result for us, in the first game it is very important not to concede a goal," Marseille coach Didier Deschamps said. "It was a hard game against a big team and my players have done their best."


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