Despite star exodus, remainders at AS Monaco reach Champions League last 16
Goals by Aymen Abdennour and Fabinho secured AS Monaco a 2-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg and a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2004 on Tuesday.
The French side – who scored just four goals in the six group games – also finished top of Group C as Bayer Leverkusen drew 0-0 away to Benfica, who finished bottom of the group with Zenit left with the consolation of a Europa League spot.
Monaco’s Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim was happy to have proved people wrong in thinking his side would struggle.
“Two French teams have qualified for the last 16 which is rare,” said Jardim, who took over after Claudio Ranieri was not retained and quickly lost star players James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao.
“And I would like to remind people that in August we were considered the worst team in the group.
“Is this revenge for that line of thinking? No. I am happy because we have achieved our target.”
His compatriot, Zenit coach Andre Villas-Boas, said Monaco’s defending had been first-rate and that his side had found it difficult to break down a team who put virtually all their players behind the ball.
However, the former FC Porto, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea coach said he did not wish to comment on rumours linking him to Liverpool, who will also be in the Europa League draw.
“I am happy at Zenit and I am under contract with them,” he said.
“There are new challenges ahead, namely the Europa League as well as the domestic league which we are leading by seven points.”
The opening 15 minutes were a cagey affair although Zenit did manage to work one promising chance, but Jose Rondon’s shot from inside the area was blocked by Brazilian Under 21 international defender Wallace.
Monaco were doing the job in terms of keeping Zenit at bay and only occasionally went on the counter-attack, their best one being a determined run from Jeremy Toulalan, whose shot after cutting inside from the right flashed just wide of the near post.
It was Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic who had to make the first save of the match, which the spectators had to wait 40 minutes for, getting down to save a Nicolas Lombaerts header.
Monaco front man Dimitar Berbatov, who had barely had a touch of the ball, was forced off shortly before the hour mark with what looked like a rib injury.
However, his teammates more than made up for his departure by taking the lead in the 63rd minute, Tunisian defender Abdennour heading home Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco’s beautifully delivered free-kick – only the third goal of their campaign – to give Prince Albert II of Monaco, sitting in the stands, reason to smile.
Zenit went desperately close to levelling with 20 minutes remaining as Hulk’s curling free-kick from long range crept over the bar, but Monaco used the extra space being left at the back as the visitors pressed for an equaliser and Moroccan winger Nabil Dirar sent a fizzing shot just wide of the far post.
The hosts doubled their lead, and secured their place in the draw for the first knockout round for the first time since their run to the final in 2004, as Fabinho fired home a left-footed shot two minutes from time, provoking Prince Albert on this occasion to get up from his seat in celebration.
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Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM