Midfielder Benoit Cheyrou scored with a sweetly struck volley as Olympique de Marseille earned a hard-fought 1-0 win at newly promoted Stade de Reims on Sunday.
Reims, two-time European Cup runners-up to Real Madrid in 1956 and 1959 during their heyday, had the better of the chances until Marseille started to get on top in the last 20 minutes.
Reims goalkeeper Kossi Agassa was well-beaten in the 77th minute, when midfielder Charles Kabore curled over a floating cross from the right and Cheyrou sprinted onto it, volleying the ball firmly across Agassa and into the bottom-right corner.
“It’s a long time since we started the season with a win, we all stuck together and this will be good for our confidence,” Cheyrou said. “There’s a lot more to come from the team.”
Marseille looked tired at times, playing just three days after facing Turkish side Eskisehirspor in the Europa League playoffs.
“It was an open match,” Marseille coach Elie Baup said. “Both goalies played well, although we could have finished better at times. We still have a lot of things to work on.”
Kabore tried his luck early on with a long-range shot that was tipped over by Agassa and although Marseille had longer spells of possession, Reims had the better chances and goalie Steve Mandanda saved Marseille twice in an entertaining first half.
In the 14th minute, Mandanda sprawled to his right to push away striker Gaetan Courtet’s powerful header. Then, close to halftime, he thwarted Reims again when he stretched out his right leg to kick away Kamel Ghilas’ effort after the striker met a cross from the right.
“We played really well, but we should have scored, but that’s the harsh reality of the first division,” Reims coach Hubert Fournier said. “You have to take your chances, and we were punished by a superb goal from Cheyrou.”
Agassa kept out a shot from Marseille striker Andre-Pierre Gignac two minutes into the second half and Gignac missed another chance shortly after, blazing the ball over the top after being set up by Spanish fullback Cesar Azpilicueta.
In between Gignac’s efforts, Mandanda had to be vigilant again to get a hand to Courtet’s firm strike and Reims almost scored on the hour mark, when Floyd Ayite headed just wide from a free-kick.
On a busy night for both goalkeepers, Agasssa reacted well to palm away Andre Ayew’s diving header in the 65th minute, when the Ghana winger latched onto Cheyrou’s free-kick.
Moments before Cheyrou’s goal, Gignac should have already put Marseille ahead when he had only Agassa to beat, but he tried to curl the ball into the bottom corner and Agassa read his shot perfectly, pushing the ball away for a corner.