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Europa League Final: Robert Pires relishing Dimitri Payet v Antoine Griezmann battle and believes old club Marseille can upset the odds

In an exclusive interview with BTSport.com, Arsenal legend Robert Pires insists another of his former clubs, Marseille, can stun Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final and says the battle between Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann could "make all the difference".

Robert Pires insists Marseille can upset the odds to defeat Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final and believes the battle between Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann could "make all the difference".

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The Ligue 1 side go in as huge underdogs against Diego Simeone’s men in Wednesday’s showpiece at Lyon’s Groupama Stadium, which will be shown exclusively live across all BT Sport platforms from 7pm.

Pires knows the pain of falling at the final hurdle in this competition only too well, having been part of the Marseille side that was trounced 3-0 by a star-studded Parma team in the 1999 UEFA Cup final.

He admitted in an exclusive interview with BTSport.com that he fears a similar disappointment could be on the cards after the impressive nature of Atletico’s win over another of his former clubs, Arsenal, in the semi-finals.

However, he noted that the one-off nature of the game should give the 1993 Champions League winners hope as they bid to lift just the second European trophy in their history.

“It was a shame for Arsenal as they have a good squad and good quality, but Atletico are a great team,” said Pires.

“Their squad is very good, very compact and the manager, for me, is one of the best in Europe.

“But in one game anything is possible, so it’s very important for Marseille to try something and create some trouble for Atletico.

“It’s a very good opportunity to say to Europe they are one of the best teams for this competition.

“It will be difficult but I believe they can do it.”

Much of the focus of the watching world will be on the duel between the respective creative maestros – Payet and Griezmann.

Pires, no stranger to delivering moments of magic in the final third during his stellar playing career, is relishing the prospect of his fellow Frenchmen vying for supremacy.

“This is a good battle between them,” he said.

“They have a lot of quality and impact, one for Atletico and one for Marseille. They both play for France, so they play at a very high level.

“That’s why they can make all the difference in the game.

“Atletico against Marseille, Payet against Griezmann, Rudi Garcia against Diego Simeone, and the fans…it should be a great final.”

If Marseille are to prevail, they may also need a major contribution from former Newcastle United star Florian Thauvin, who has been in sparkling form this season.

The 25-year-old joined the Magpies for £15 million in the summer of 2015 but proved a major disappointment during an ill-fated six-month spell on Tyneside that yielded just 16 appearances and one goal in all competitions.

However, he has enjoyed an extraordinary renaissance since returning to Marseille in January 2016 – initially on an 18-month loan before making the switch permanent.

Thauvin has 22 goals and 11 assists to his name in Ligue 1 so far this term, as well as notching four goals in the run to the Europa League final.

He is also hoping to make the cut for France’s World Cup squad on Thursday, having collected three caps for Les Bleus since making his debut in a 5-0 drubbing of Paraguay last June.

So while his stint at St James’ Park will continue to be remembered for all the wrong reasons by Newcastle fans, Pires suggested that it has effectively proved the making of him as a player.

“At Newcastle it was a great experience for him – maybe not for the fans because the club spent a lot of money on him,” he said.

“But he was young, and when you change countries, the food, the language, it’s very difficult. It’s about adaptation, and believe me, adaptation is very difficult, especially when you play in the UK.

“I felt he learnt a lot with Newcastle and now with Marseille, he’s been one of the best French players all season.”

Could Thauvin now cap his remarkable return to prominence by guiding Marseille to European glory?

Robert Pires is working with UEFA Europa League partner Enterprise Rent-A-Car on their Backseat Pundit competition. To enjoy special rates on car hire across Europe, visit www.backseatpundit.co.uk

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