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Sports

Monaco is a Team to Fear in Champions League Quarterfinals

There was a touch of destiny about Monaco's win

Monaco supporters cheer their team during a Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match between Monaco and Manchester City at the Louis II stadium in Monaco, Wednesday March 15, 2017, photo: AP/Claude Paris
6 months ago

MONACO – Monaco is the team to fear when the Champions League draw is made on Friday.

That’s the view of coach Leonardo Jardim, the architect of a staggering attack that has scored 126 goals this season. Monaco topped up its goal tally on Wednesday night, beating Manchester City 3-1 to reach the last eight on the away goals rule after losing 5-3 in the first leg of their Round of 16 match.

Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Leicester are the other teams in the draw.

Asked if Monaco should be fearing sides or they should be fearing Monaco, he was clear.

“It’s more a case of the latter,” Jardim said.

Monaco advanced despite missing its 24-goal top scorer Radamel Falcao through injury and its best defender Kamil Glik through suspension.

“Falcao out, Glik out. Not many people thought we had a chance to qualify,” Jardim said. “I always defend Ligue 1. France has good teams, good players, good managers.”

The Portuguese coach has instilled huge belief into this side, which is on course for a domestic treble.

“I thought if we scored three we would go through and the players had that in mind,” he said. “English teams have suited us well in the last couple of years. We knocked out Arsenal (in the Round of 16 in 2015) and we beat Tottenham twice this season (in the group stage).”

Midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko’s thumping 77th-minute header sent Monaco through.

City fought back from 2-0 down and was momentarily in control after midfielder Leroy Sane’s 71st-minute goal. But Bakayoko rose imperiously to meet Thomas Lemar’s curling free kick as the contest finished 6-6 on aggregate.

Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko celebrates his side side’s 3rd goal during a Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match between Monaco and Manchester City at the Louis II stadium in Monaco, Wednesday March 15, 2017. Photo: AP/Claude Paris

“Monaco deserved to go through,” Jardim said. “Even in the first leg, City had a bit of luck.”

City coach Pep Guardiola lamented the fact that his side had failed to compete in the first half.

“At this level, you have to play more than 45 minutes,” Guardiola said. “The gap between the first and the second halves is there.”

Confirming his reputation as a rising star of European football, Monaco’s 18-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe scored from close range in the eighth minute for his 11th goal in 11 games.

Brazilian midfielder Fabinho made it 2-0 in the 29th with a crisp shot from near the penalty spot after excellent work by left back Benjamin Mendy.

Three weeks ago, City had rallied from 3-2 down with three goals in the last 20 minutes and Pep Guardiola’s side needed another comeback on the French Riviera.

City played much better in the second half, with Sane scoring after top scorer Sergio Aguero had missed good chances.

The fleet-footed Sane smashed the ball into the roof of the net after Danijel Subasic’s save from Raheem Sterling’s low shot fell right into his path.

But it was not enough, and Monaco’s lap of honor was richly deserved.

In the night’s other match, Atletico Madrid drew 0-0 at home to Bayer Leverkusen to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

There was a touch of destiny about Monaco’s win.

Monaco has been in an almost identical position before, overturning a 4-2 loss away to Real Madrid in the first leg to reach the semifinals in 2004 — the year it reached the final.

That was one of the best nights in the club’s history, and the fans wanted another one.

The compact Stade Louis II, with its capacity of 18,500, is one of the quieter stadiums in France and is rarely full.

But it was this time, as fans decked in red and white chanted “Le stade avec vous” (The stadium’s with you) from the offset.

Guardiola had sounded almost like a Monaco season-ticket holder on the eve of the game, speaking with gushing admiration about how he feared Monaco’s attack, and saying it was impossible to stop.

He was right.

With seven minutes played, striker Valere Germain won the ball in midfield and released Mbappe, whose touch took him clean through. But in an effort to pick his spot cleanly he telegraphed his shot and goalkeeper Willy Caballero stood up well to make a fine save.

A minute later, Mbappe was celebrating.

Mendy’s cross was blocked with a sliding tackle by center half John Stones, the loose ball fell to Silva and his drilled pass found Mbappe. The second seemed inevitable when it came, with the impressive Lemar starting the move.

By this point, Guardiola was already pacing up and down, all gesticulation and pointed fingers. Jardim stood perfectly still, hands behind his back like an army general watching his battle plans unfurl to perfection.

“We had to be fresh, close them down all over the pitch and not let them get on the ball,” Jardim said. “That’s what we did.”

JEROME PUGMIRE

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