MARSEILLE, France — Dimitri Payet looked back to his best after setting up both goals as Marseille beat Salzburg 2-0 in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal on Thursday.
Winger Florian Thauvin headed in Payet's curling free kick deep to the back post in the 15th minute, although video replays showed Thauvin headed the ball onto his outstretched hand before it went in.
"I did touch it with my hand, it seems," Thauvin said on beIN Sports television. "But I'm happy we won and that we're in a good position to qualify."
It was Thauvin's 22nd goal of an outstanding season which has seen him break back into the France squad ahead of the World Cup.
Payet is fighting to keep his France squad place, but another performance like this will make it hard for coach Didier Deschamps to freeze him out of Russia. He was involved in all of Marseille's best moves at Stade Velodrome, and even chased back to harry Salzburg's players.
But he did the most damage with his passing, expertly setting up substitute Clinton N'Jie for Marseille's second goal in the 63rd.
N'Jie had been on the field only a few minutes, but brilliantly took down a pass near the halfway line and flicked it to Payet sprinting down the left. Payet then resisted the temptation to cross quickly, instead waiting for N'Jie to drift into the penalty area before feeding him with a perfect pass to fire home from.
Salzburg beat Marseille at home and drew away in the group stage this season. But the Austrian side did not threaten until the 29th, when a fine run and shot from right back Stefan Lainer forced a smothering save from goalkeeper Yohann Pele.
Midfielder Hannes Wolf almost leveled in the 53rd, but Pele expertly tipped over his rasping shot. Pele had a fine game, rushing off his line to keep out a shot from left back Andreas Ulmer, moments after Ulmer's pass led to Xaver Schlager hitting the left post with a fine half-volley.
"You can't reach the final without effort, sacrifice and suffering," Marseille center half Adil Rami said. "But we're still a long way off."
The winner plays Arsenal or Atletico Madrid in the final on May 16 in the French city of Lyon. Arsenal drew with visiting Atletico 1-1.