Dimitri Payet scored a goal of the season contender as Olympique de Marseille held their nerve to narrowly overcome PAOK 2-1 in the first leg of their quarter-final UEFA Europa Conference League tie.
Having won their last five games in all competitions, high-flying Marseille were in a good position to reach their first European semi-final since the 2017/18 season. All they had to do was overcome a PAOK side looking to cause a major upset. Marseille set the tempo from the off and after Cédric Bakambu spurned an early chance they deservedly took the lead thanks to a glorious Gerson strike. Payet’s defence splitting pass picked out the Brazilian on the edge of the box who had enough time to turn and pick out the bottom corner to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Cengiz Ünder criminally failed to extend the hosts lead 30 minutes in. Following great work by Bakambu, Ünder only had the keeper to beat but his shot was easily turned away by Alexandros Paschalakis. After assisting the first, Payet stunned the Orange Vélodrome with a truly phenomenal strike as he met Ünder’s corner on the edge of the area, with his first-time effort flying into the top corner to make the score 2-0 at HT.
PAOK came flying out of the blocks after the restart and an inspired HT substitute got them back into the game. Andrija Živković’s neat back heel found Omar El Kaddouri who emphatically curled the ball into the top corner to make it 2-1. An end-to-end affair saw great chances for either side wasted, in particular by Chuba Akpom and Payet who both put their efforts wide of the post. Paschalakis kept his side in the tie with a fantastic double save, first to deny Mattéo Guendouzi from a corner before stopping William Saliba’s effort on the rebound.
Chances dried up towards the end of the game with both sides seemingly content with the scoreline, though goalscorer Gerson was sent off for a second yellow in stoppage time, meaning he will miss the second leg. Marseille travel to the Toumba Stadium next week with a slender 2-1 lead to protect – leaving the tie very much in the balance.