By Andy Hall in Madrid
Real Madrid CF coach Carlos Queiroz's hopes of an end to his team's recent slide were answered with an emphatic 4-2 victory against AS Monaco FC in an intense UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Santiago Bernabéu.
But while Queiroz will be delighted to go to France with a two-goal advantage, he criticised his team's defensive lapses. "We have conceded two goals and that is not normal," he said. "We must continue working, be more intelligent and create more pressure. I am particularly disappointed because once again we have been punished from dead-ball situations. That has been the story for the past month."
During an evenly-balanced first half, Madrid's main threat came from the deep-lying forward Raúl González, although his string of headers posed few problems for the Monaco goalkeeper Flavio Roma. The home crowd grew nervous as the interval drew near, questioning whether striker Ronaldo had perhaps returned too soon after injury.
Monaco enjoyed their most lively period during the final five minutes of the half - and produced the opening goal, Sébastien Squillaci pouncing on a bobbling ball in a crowded penalty area to beat Iker Casillas.
Madrid were much more convincing after the break and turned the tables on Monaco in quick fashion. David Beckham's 50th-minute corner was turned in by substitute Iván Helguera despite Squillaci's brave attempt to clear off the line, and within a quarter of an hour, Madrid had taken the lead, Zinedine Zidane sweetly placing the ball inside the post after Roma had saved from Luís Figo.
'Show of character'
"In the second half, we started to show our character without being over-anxious," Queiroz said. "That's when we began to create more chances. But
I am happy with the attitude shown tonight - that's something that should not change. We should maintain that level of concentration whoever is leading in the match."
While question marks over Ronaldo's fitness remain, the Brazilian impressed on the night, creating Madrid's third goal and scoring the fourth. A penalty was awarded when his run was cut short in the box, and Figo headed over the line at the second attempt after seeing his initial spot-kick saved superbly by Roma. Queiroz said: "We have shown that we can find another solution when someone is not fit to play. If we have absentees then we have to make do with the players we have available."
Monaco coach Didier Deschamps praised his team for their first-half display. "Everything we did during the first half was positive, but
Madrid are the best team in Europe with the best player - Zidane," he said. "We had opportunities but we were outclassed. But I am happy because I feel that it has been a great challenge, especially for our younger players."
Dream still alive
Deschamps, however, refused to accept that the tie was over. "We can always dream," he said. "We have chances but it will be difficult. Our first half was excellent but it was obvious that physically we paid for that later on. We had 30 bad minutes, we lost our rhythm and for a short while we were lost. Madrid took advantage of that."
Crucial away goals
Monaco demonstrated great character to salvage some hope with a second goal late in the game. Fernando Morientes, the striker on loan at Monaco from Madrid, leapt to head past Casillas to ensure that the second leg in two weeks is not a foregone conclusion.
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