LAURENT BLANC, France's World Cup winning centre-back, handed the Uefa Cup on a plate to Parma last night as the Italian side carved out their own niche in football history.
The Marseilles captain, rated as one of the world's greatest centre-backs, produced an agonising mistake in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium and one which will haunt him for the rest of his career. The normally reliable veteran was under no pressure as he looked to knock back Juan Sebastian Veron's looping forward header to his own keeper, Stephane Porato. But he gained little purchase on his feeble 26th minute flick and the Argentinian striker Hernan Crespo stole in and delightfully flicked his 28th goal of the season over the outstretched grasp of a disbelieving Porato.
After missing Barcelona's Cup-Winners' Cup final victory two years ago because of injury - at a time when the former England manager Bobby Robson was in charge - and France's World Cup final success last summer through suspension, this was the latest heartbreaking chapter in Blanc's illustrious career.
It also wrecked Marseilles' confidence, already low because of a glut of suspensions, two of which arose after a mass brawl at the end of their last-gasp semi-final second leg away goals win in Bologna three weeks ago.
It was just the platform Parma needed to become the first club to win the Italian Cup - given their two-legged success over Fiorentina last week - and the Uefa Cup in the same season. The match, in front of a 61,000 crowd, was effectively over as a contest in the 36th minute when Paolo Vanoli headed home.
Parma completed their victory with a third goal in the 55th minute through a stunning half-volley from Enrico Chiesa.
The Marseilles coach, Rolland Courbis, described the result as a "nightmare" for his side. "The first goal didn't help us," he said.
Parma (3-5-2): Buffon; Thuram, Sensini (capt), R Cannavaro; Fuser, Baggio, Boghossian, Vanoli, Veron (Fiore, 76); Crespo (Asprilla, 84), Chiesa (Balbo, 73).
Marseilles (5-4-1): Porato; Blondeau, Issa, Blanc (capt), Domoraud, Edson (Camara, 46); Brando, Bravo, Pires, Gourvennec; Maurice.
Referee: H Dallas (Sco).
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