Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Monaco, FC Porto defy odds in Champions League


It will be a 66-1 shot facing a 50-1 shot in the Champions League final. Those were the odds on Monaco and FC Porto when the competition began last summer.

The May 26 final in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, is sure to go down as one of the most unlikely since the championship began in 1955.

No Real Madrid. No AC Milan. No Bayern Munich.

What the final may lack in glamor, it will have in flair with two of the most skillful and exciting teams on the continent -- and two of its best young coaches.

Monaco reached its first Champions Cup final, rallying on Wednesday to draw 2-2 with Chelsea in London.

Monaco advanced 5-3 on aggregate, overcoming a side put together with ?100 million (US$180 million) spent on new players by Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.

Porto, which won its only European Cup title in 1987, defeated Spain's Deportivo de La Coruna 1-0 on Tuesday to advance. They drew the first game 0-0.

Chelsea, which squandered too many chances, seemed to be through when Jesper Gronkjaer scored on a curling shot off the left wing in the 22nd minute. Frank Lampard made it 2-0 in the 44th.

Had the score stayed that way, Chelsea would have advanced on the away-goal rule. Monaco won 3-1 two weeks ago.

The match turned just moments after Lampard's goal.

Two minutes into injury time, Jerome Rothen crossed from the right. Fernando Morientes headed the ball onto the bar. It rebounded and struck Hugo Ibarra before dropping over the line.

Spanish striker Morientes, cast off by Real Madrid, scored in the 60th on a counterattack, slipping the ball under diving Chelsea goalkeeper Claudio Cudicini.

Didier Deschamps, Monaco's coach, credited the win to the play of Morientes.

"In a big game you can see a big player, and Morientes is a big player," he said. "He's the best player on my team."

Asked about the team's chances eight months ago, Deschamps said: "I didn't think it was possible at the beginning of the season. Now we have a 50-50 chance with Porto."

Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri, who says he expects to be fired, said his side let it get away.

"The first half was amazing," he said. "We had the match in our hands. And we concede a goal at the end of the first half. If we go in at halftime 2-nil, it's another match."

British bookmakers Ladbrokes rated Porto a 50-1 when the competition began last year. Monaco was 66-1. Chelsea was 12-1 and Deportivo was 20-1.

Real Madrid, the 3-1 favorites when the competition began, was ousted by Monaco in the quarterfinals, and English favorite Manchester United was put out by Porto in the quarterfinals.

Last year's champion AC Milan was shown the door in the quarterfinals by Deportivo. Chelsea advanced, shocking English rival and this season's Premier League champion Arsenal.

Monaco's No. 1 fan -- Prince Albert -- was stunned by the season's turnaround, particularly since the club faced bankruptcy after last season.

"Almost 10 months ago we were wondering what we were going to do," he said, a demotion to the second division looking possible.

The final will showcase two of Europe's best young coaches -- FC Porto's Jose Mourinho and Deschamps, who has won twice as a player.

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