Marseille, Atalanta tie in first leg of Europa League semifinal

Marseille’s Europa League semi-final tie against Atalanta is finely poised going into the return after the teams drew 1-1 in Thursday’s first leg in France.

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Gianluca Scamacca gave Atalanta an early lead to silence a huge crowd at a packed Velodrome, but Chancel Mbemba quickly pulled Marseille level with a stunning strike from outside the box.

The draw means it will be all to play for in the second leg in Bergamo next Thursday, although Atalanta must be considered the favourites as they dream of reaching a European final for the first time in their history.

Marseille, who are appearing in their third European semi-final in seven years, have been much stronger in front of their own fans this season, with Paris Saint-Germain the only visiting team to beat them at the Velodrome over 90 minutes in any competition.

However, they have regularly struggled on their travels and just reaching the semi-finals was a fine achievement for a club who are outside the European places in Ligue 1 and are on their third coach of the campaign.

Atalanta stunned Liverpool in the quarter-finals after winning 3-0 in the first leg at Anfield, and they went ahead inside 11 minutes in the south of France.

Scamacca, who scored twice in that game against Jurgen Klopp’s side, was neglected by the Marseille defence as he controlled a pass from Teun Koopmeiners before firing in past home goalkeeper Pau Lopez.

The visitors then lost defender Sead Kolasinac to an apparent hamstring injury, forcing a reshuffle which saw captain Marten de Roon drop back from midfield into the back line.

They were still readjusting when Marseille equalised in the 20th minute.

A corner was played short on the home side’s right flank, before Geoffrey Kondogbia laid the ball back to Mbemba who controlled before letting fly with a shot that sailed into the net off the left-hand post.

It was the Congolese defender’s fourth goal in the competition this season, and Marseille probably should have built on that to take the lead into the break.

They cut Atalanta open on the counter, with Amine Harit unselfishly finding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, only for the Europa League’s all-time top scorer to send his shot across goal and wide of the far post.

Conscious of the importance of having a lead to take to Italy, Marseille continued to push in the second half and came closest when Azzedine Ounahi — just on as a substitute — collected an Aubameyang pass before cracking a shot off a post.

The French side, Europa League runners-up in 2018 as well as UEFA Cup finalists in 1999 and 2004, will hope they don’t live to regret these missed chances as they dream of reaching another final, this time in Dublin later this month.

(AFP)

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