Liverpool on the ropes as Marseille storm fortress Anfield

( AFP ) - Liverpool were left facing a huge fight for Champions League survival after Marseille became the first French club to win at Anfield with a 1-0 win here on Wednesday.

Midfielder Mathieu Valbeuna settled the contest with a superb late strike, curling a 25-yard shot into the top corner of the net as the Liverpool back four stood off him with quarter of an hour left.

But the troubled French club might easily have wrapped up their win much sooner on a night that leaves Liverpool with just one point from their opening two games in group A and will only fuel the controversy over Rafael Benitez's love of endlessly rotating his line-ups.

Having named a side in which the totally ineffective Sebastian Leto was making only his second start of the season and Peter Crouch his third, Benitez was rewarded with a performance as disjointed as any in his three and a bit seasons in charge.

Marseille coach Erik Gerets paid tribute to the players who made his first match in charge such a memorable on.

"It is my players who wrote the history, I was just on the touchline. But I'm very proud of them -- they made a few small mistakes technically but none tactically.

The "directors out" banners brandished by the noisy contingent of travelling visiting supporters reflected the fact that Marseille are currently hovering just above the relegation zone in their own league, having won once in their first nine matches.

That run cost Albert Emon his job as head coach last week. But in their first match under former Belgium defender Gerets they looked anything but a club in turmoil.

"The club needed a success like this, we needed a lift and hopefully this will give us that lift for the next few games," Gerets said.

"Everyone thought we would come here and lose so we decided to come and play for a win. Whenever we could we got four men forward and that created problems for them."

Sharper in the tackle and crisper in their passing than their lacklustre hosts, Gerets's new charges dominated all but the final five minutes of the match and were unfortunate not to have gone in at the break in front.

Senegalese striker Mamadou Niang spurned the best chance, firing a 13th-minute shot straight at Jose Reina from 12 yards after midfielder Karim Ziani had robbed Fabio Aurelio of possession and played the striker in behind the Liverpool back four.

A frustrating opening half for Benitez's side was epitomised by their only meaningful strike on goal, a long-range free-kick from Aurelio that might have found the corner of the net if the referee, Konrad Plautz, had not been standing in the way.

Plautz did not improve his standing with the Anfield faithful by booking Gerrard shortly afterwards for what was close to a textbook challenge on Benoit Cheyrou.

But ten minutes before the break, the Austrian official did Liverpool a huge favour by failing to ignore the flag his assistant raised as Niang got in front of Aurelio to meet a low cross from left-back Taye Taiwo.

Reina blocked the striker's shot at close range but Cheyrou netted the loose ball and replays suggested Niang should have been given the benefit of the doubt on the offside decision.

Nearly an hour had elapsed before Liverpool finally carved out their first half-chance of the match. Steve Finnan's cross from the right was at an inviting height for Crouch but his attempt at a volley resulted in an embarrassing air shot which will have done little for the confidence of the unsettled striker.

Marseille had greater reason for alarm when Gerrard intercepted an attempted clearance but the Liverpool captain's strike skidded a foot wide of Steve Mendanda's left post.

Having run himself to a standstill, Niang departed to allow former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse a 20-minute cameo.

Warmly received by the crowd, Cisse did not have the bad manners to make much of an impression on the match but Valbuena's piece of magic ensured he did not have to.

Marseille lived dangerously in injury time, centreback Julien Rodriguez blocking Yossi Benayoun's goalbound header and Fernando Torres striking the post, but there was no disputing that the visitors deserved a milestone win that leaves them top of the group with a maximum six points.

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