By Matt Spiro at Stade Louis II
AS Monaco FC seized the initiative in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final against Chelsea FC at the Stade Louis II on Tuesday, scoring two late goals to seal a 3-1 victory despite being reduced to ten men. Dado Pršo, Fernando Morientes and Shabani Nonda were all on target for the spirited French side, who recovered from the dismissal of Akis Zikos in stunning fashion.
Monaco welcomed back central midfield pair Zikos and Lucas Bernardi, as they lined up with Morientes and Pršo up front and Ludovic Giuly and Jérôme Rothen occupying the flanks. Chelsea, meanwhile, opted for a central defensive partnership of Marcel Desailly and John Terry in the absence of the injured William Gallas, while Jesper Grønkjær replaced Damien Duff.
Chelsea refused to allow Monaco any time on the ball in the opening stages, with Mario Melchiot and Scott Parker particularly impressive in stifling the threat of Patrice Evra and Rothen on the Monaco left. The home side had their first glimpse of goal in the eleventh minute when Giuly cut in from the right and found Morientes on the edge of the box but the Spaniard's shot was blocked by Desailly.
Monaco soon began to find their attacking stride and Melchiot was cautioned in the 16th minute when he caught Rothen in full flow. From the resulting free-kick, Monaco broke the deadlock as Chelsea failed to clear Rothen's swinging cross and Pršo looped a header into the top corner. It was the Croatian's seventh Champions League goal this season and only the second that Chelsea had conceded on their travels.
The goal stirred the London side to life and they drew level in the 22nd minute. Parker got clear on the right, found Gudjohnsen unmarked in the box and despite losing his footing the Icelandic striker squeezed a pass to Hernán Crespo, who took one touch before side-footing in from close range. It nearly got worse for the French side five minutes later when Frank Lampard robbed Rothen on the right and crossed for Crespo, but this time the Argentinian cleared the crossbar with a right-foot volley.
Giuly threatened to latch on to Hugo Ibarra's long ball over the top on 34 minutes but Terry's outstretched leg diverted the ball back to goalkeeper Marco Ambrosio. Nevertheless it was Chelsea, with Claude Makelele taking a grip on the midfield, who finished the half the stronger and the Monaco defenders had to be at their best to keep the scores level.
Monaco upped the tempo after the break and Ambrosio did well to push out Julien Rodriguez's header from a Rothen corner on 50 minutes. Seconds later Giuly escaped down the left, cut the ball back for Morientes and though his scissor-kick beat Ambrosio, Desailly was on the line to hack clear. The game changed complexion in the 53rd minute, however, when Zikos raised an arm to Makelele and the Monaco midfield player was sent off. The Frenchman was also cautioned for his part in the altercation and will miss the second leg in a fortnight.
Pršo was soon sacrificed as a result of the red card, with Edouard Cissé introduced to reinforce the midfield, but Chelsea were soon on the offensive and Gudjohnsen had two chances in the space of a minute. The striker first broke the offside trap and had his low shot saved by the onrushing Flavio Roma, then glanced a header fractionally over the crossbar from Juan Sebatián Verón's corner. Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri signalled his intentions by sending on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as a third striker and the Dutchman was soon in the action, heading wide from Wayne Bridge's cross on 76 minutes.
Seconds later Monaco retook the lead thanks to a terrific strike from Morientes. The forward raced on to Giuly's flick and crashed a right-foot volley inside the near post from the right side of the box. Amazingly the ten men of Monaco added a third seven minutes from time when substitute Shabani Nonda squeezed a shot past Ambrosio with his first touch, leaving Chelsea in disarray.