Doing it the hard way

Road to the final: AS Monaco FC's progress to Gelsenkirchen has been extraordinary and unexpected.

When AS Monaco FC were pipped to last season's French title by Olympique Lyonnais with one game to go, the principality club had the consolation of their first UEFA Champions League campaign in three years.

Summer turmoil
However, their summer was traumatic to say the least, as they were relegated by the French Professional League on financial grounds, only to be reprieved three weeks later. However, they then lost key striker Shabani Nonda with a serious knee injury. On deadline day they brought in Fernando Morientes on loan from Real Madrid CF, a deal that would return to haunt the Spanish champions.

Winning start
Drawn with PSV Eindhoven, AEK Athens FC and RC Deportivo La Corunã in the group stage, Monaco made a perfect start as they won 2-1 in the Netherlands with goals from Morientes and Edouard Cissé. Next up were AEK, unbeaten in seven Champions League games, but Monaco stormed to a 4-0 win - Morientes scoring twice - though they then conceded the group leadership in losing 1-0 at Deportivo.

Record score
Revenge was sweet - and extraordinary - as Monaco overcame a Morientes injury to dispatch Deportivo 8-3 - a competition record score. Morientes's replacement Dado Pršo scored four times on his 29th birthday. After that, Monaco clinched qualification with a 1-1 draw against PSV and then first place in a goalless game at AEK.

Lokomotiv seen off
FC Lokomotiv Moskva awaited in the first knockout stage, and the cold of February in Moscow troubled Monaco, who went 2-0 down before a crucial headed goal from Morientes. Pršo missed a penalty early in the return, but Dmitri Loskov was soon sent off and the Croatian striker scored on the hour to take Monaco through on away goals.

Morientes reunion
In the next round, the inevitable happened, as Morientes found Monaco paired with his employers Madrid. There had been no clause in his deal preventing him from playing in such a match, something that Madrid would rue. It did not seem that way in the first leg when, after Sébastien Squillaci had put visitors Monaco ahead at the break, Madrid then stormed into a 4-1 lead. Morientes pulled one back late on, his goal marked by applause from the Madrid fans, convinced it was simply a consolation.

Madrid stunned
How wrong they were, although it did not appear the case when Raúl González scored 36 minutes in at the Stade Louis II. However, Ludovic Giuly equalised on the stroke of half-time and Morientes continued his vein of form with a headed goal on 48 minutes. A clever flick from Giuly 24 minutes from the end eventually gave Monaco another away-goals triumph.

Chelsea downed
Awaiting Monaco in the last four were Chelsea FC. The Londoners, like Monaco, had begun summer 2003 massively in debt but their recovery was even more dramatic as Roman Abramovich bought the club and embarked on a record spending spree. Monaco staged the first leg, but their chances looked slim when midway through the second half Akis Zikos was dismissed with the score at 1-1. However, Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri gambled on going for goals, and Morientes and the now-fit Nonda scored late on to make it 3-1.

Final assured
Again, though, Monaco had to progress the hard way. Forty-five minutes in to the Stamford Bridge return, Jesper Grønkjær and Frank Lampard had given Chelsea the advantage on away goals. But Hugo Ibarra restored Monaco's overall lead on the stroke of half-time and Morientes took his Champions League tally to nine goals on the hour to earn his temporary employers their first European final.