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Magical Monaco claim 3-1 advantage

Fernando Morientes
Morientes struck with 13 minutes left.

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MONACO -- Fernando Morientes and Shabani Nonda struck two late goals as 10-man Monaco beat Chelsea 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal.

The French side shrugged off Andreas Zikos' sending off early in the second half to give themselves a huge advantage for the second leg as they seek to reach their first European Cup final.

Croatian striker Dado Prso had headed Monaco in front on 17 minutes, but Hernan Crespo hit back for Chelsea just four minutes later.

The match seemed to have turned in the London side's favor when Zikos was harshly dismissed after clashing with Chelsea's French midfielder Claude Makelele, who tumbled to the ground after the Greek midfielder had gently slapped his face.

But Monaco continued to press forward, and they were rewarded for their hard work with 13 minutes left when Morientes collected a pass from playmaker Ludovic Giuly and slammed the ball into the roof of the net from a narrow angle on the right of the goal.

It was the on-loan Real Madrid striker's eighth goal in the Champions League this season

Five minutes later Nonda, recently back from a career-threatening knee injury, scored with his first touch after coming on as a substitute.

Big step

"To score two goals when we were down to 10 men is really exceptional and we have taken a big step towards the final," said Monaco coach Didier Deschamps.

"It's a great result and we can be confident for the second leg. There was a lot of hard tackling but we stood up to the challenge and can look forward to the return."

Inspired by the wizardry of playmaker Giuly, Monaco's bright young side -- who have an average age of just 23 -- played with far too much flair and enthusiasm for Chelsea.

Giuly could have restored their first half lead on 34 minutes when he danced past John Terry and Wayne Bridge only for Chelsea keeper Marco Ambrosio to scoop his shot away.

Chelsea were also rocking just after the break when Prso's shot was punched away by Ambrosio and Marcel Desailly cleared off the line seconds later.

Zikos' sending off at least gave the visitors some breathing space, although Makelele's yellow card for the incident means that the influential Frenchman will miss the return leg at Stamford Bridge on May 5.

But Morientes' and Nonda's efforts ensured a miserable evening for Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri on a day when his future at the club was once again the subject of speculation. (FULL STORY)

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