The 2004 AS Monaco Champions League underdog story

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AS Monaco’s surprise aggregate victory against Arsenal last week makes this the ideal time to reminisce on another side from the royal principality that defied all odds in the Champions League.

It’s time to put our nostalgic hats on and head to 2004 when the Monaco side led by Didier Deschamps reached the Champions League final to face José Mourinho’s Porto. Chelsea and Real Madrid were beaten along the way thanks largely to an array of attacking talent.

During that Champions League campaign, Monaco were everyone’s favourite second team. Everyone loves a good underdog story and Monaco’s European journey was just that. The current French manager, Didier Deschamps, consequently enhanced his reputation as one of the most in-demand young tacticians of the time alongside Mourinho.

The Stade Louis II side has gone through a massive over-haul since then with a relegation to Ligue 2 being followed by a takeover by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.

Nevertheless, that 2004 squad will not be forgotten so easily. Looking back, I can hardly believe that 11 years have passed since a 13-year-old me watched amazed as the likes of Fernando Morientes, Ludovic Giuly and Dado Prso became household names.

Here is a tribute to the men who made their fans dream and dance in the same streets made so famous by Formula 1.

Between the Posts

In goal, the Rome-born Flavio Roma played every minute of Monaco’s campaign that season. His performances were so impressive that at the age of 30, he received his first Italy call-up. Hand-picked by Deschamps in 2001, Roma was prone to the odd moment of madness. However, his composure and control of the box was essential in a shaky Monaco defence.

Roma has only recently retired from the game after returning to Monaco a couple of years ago from AC Milan where he had largely served as a reserve goalkeeper.

Full-Backs

Monaco’s regular full-backs in 2004 personified Deschamps’ intentions. Hugo Ibarra and a young Patrice Evra were a neutral’s dream; full of attacking intent and thus leaving gaping holes at the back. The likes of Gael Given and Julien Rodriguez were frequently left without cover at the back with Deschamps trying to rectify the problem by searching for defensive cover from midfield. The role of defensive midfielders Akis Zikos and Lucas Bernardi was therefore indispensable to track back and fill the spaces at the back left vacant by their more adventurous colleagues.

The versatile Ibarra actually only spent the one season with Monaco having been brought on loan from Porto, of all clubs. The Boca Juniors legend was one of the goalscorers against Chelsea in the 5-3 aggregate victory of Claudio Ranieri’s men.

On the other side, Evra’s pace and attacking thrust was a replica of what Ibarra was causing to opposition defences on the right side. All the goals against Real Madrid in a 3-1 home victory in the quarter finals resulted from crosses from the fullback with the first two coming from future Manchester United and Juventus full-back.

Creativity

Deschamps set up his side in a 4-3-3 formation in Europe with Jerome Rothen and Giuly playing on either side of a central striker. While Prso and Morientes claimed the goals, the aforementioned two made sure that they provided them with the ammunition.

Giuly’s low centre of gravity made him the ideal foil to the aforementioned forwards in front while his knack for spectacular goals endeared him to fans all over Europe. His reward for a fantastic season with Monaco was a deserved transfer to Barcelona where he gelled in well with the likes of Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi.

The diminutive skipper chalked two goals in the previously mentioned 3-1 victory against Real Madrid, which summed up Deschamps attacking policy perfectly. As already alluded to, all goals came from the full-backs pushing high. The first two goals were down to Morientes’ heading ability, as he nodded the ball down for Giuly to score the first and then headed in the second himself from an Evra cross.

Giuly scored two goals that day. Splendid, splendid goals. After Morientes’ lay-off, his volley from outside the area and into the bottom corner was a fitting start to his side’s scoring spree against more fancied opposition.

His second goals was even more classy as his deft back-heel from Ibarra’s cross caught the whole Madrid defense by surprise.

On the other hand, Rothen had a roller-coaster career after moving on from Monaco as he never seemed to fulfil the great potential showed during the 2003/2004 season. Nevertheless, his eye-catching performance in Europe that season deserve considerable praise with his six assists ranked joint-first alongside Deco. Fantastic at set-pieces with a gem of a left foot, Rothen’s vision and accuracy made his side’s big guys’ mouth water.

In Attack

The most striking feature of Monaco’s campaign that season was their free-scoring exploits with their clash against Real Madrid in the quarter-final especially standing out. Having lost the first leg 4-2 in Spain, Monaco pulled off a great comeback winning 3-1 at home at advancing to the next stage via the away goals rule. During their 13 Champions League games, they scored 27 goals conceding 19 in the process. 37% of their goals in the quarter and semi-finals against big-spending Chelsea and Real Madrid.

The striking options at Deschamps disposal read Morientes, Prso, Giuly, a young Emmanuel Adebayor and future Blackburn and AS Roma forward Shabani Nonda. Prso acted mostly as a target man, while Morientes oozed class and composure. Nonda and Adebayor were reliable options from the bench, with the former contributing significantly with his goal against the Londoners. Prso’s then-record tally of four goals against Deportivo La Coruna during the unbelievable 8-3 game in the group stages has became part of Champions League folklore.

As a Liverpool fan myself, Morientes’ spell in Anfield makes my teeth cringe but watching highlights of him in a Monaco shirt reminds me why I was so excited when he signed for Rafa Benitez. Not the paciest of players, Morientes managed to beat defenders by deft touches and superb skill. His performances against the Galacticos are some of the best ever witnessed by a lone forward in Europe in recent times.

 

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