LYON, France (AP) — Marseille coach Rudi Garcia is determined to help Marseille continue what he calls its “fantastic love affair” with European football.
Marseille remains the only French side to win the Champions League, back in 1993, and will be playing in its fifth European final when they take on Atletico Madrid for the Europa League trophy on Wednesday.
“This year we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of being the first French side to win the Champions League. Now we have a fantastic chance to become the first to win the Europa League,” Garcia said Tuesday at a news conference. “We’re lucky to be at Marseille, a club which has a fantastic love affair with Europe dating back to the 1990s.”
Marseille reached its first European final in 1991 when it lost the then-European Cup title game on penalties to Red Star Belgrade, at a time when it was owned by the exuberant Bernard Tapie and had the clout to attract some of the best players in the world.
“Today we can go down in history and leave an even bigger mark on this club,” Marseille midfielder Dimitri Payet said. “I think the expectation level in Marseille and across the country is extraordinary and our motivation comes from that.”
Marseille also lost UEFA Cup finals — as the Europa League was formerly known — in 1999 and 2004.
But the balance is considerably in Atletico’s favor now. Atletico boasts far more seasoned players than Marseille, having won the Europa League in 2010 and 2012 and losing the Champions League final to Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016.
“We know experience is on their side. They came into the competition from the Champions League and we came through the Europa League playoffs,” Garcia said. “We have more young players who aren’t used to these big occasions. It’s better to stay calm and not to play the match in our heads ahead of time.”
Garcia is urging his players to forget Atletico’s tag as favorites, and seize the moment.
“Maybe our salvation tomorrow will be that everything comes down to one match,” he said. “It’s been shown before that anything’s possible.”
Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire