United's European dream in tatters

 

A goal from Ole Solskjaer revived Manchester United's flagging hopes of reaching the semi-finals last night after David Trezeguet had given Monaco an early lead. But United were unable to score again and prevent themselves being knocked out on the away goal.

Monaco, boosted by the return of Trezeguet to their attack, usually had the measure of a severely weakened United side which lacked nothing in spirit but were often short of ideas.

United went into this match mentally reciting their twice-times-table. Any away goal scored by Monaco would be worth double and while United had forced a 0-0 draw in the Louis II Stadium a fortnight earlier, they knew they would be in a weak position if they had to chase the game, and it was not long before this knowledge became reality.

Alex Ferguson's team simply could not afford to fall victim to the sort of sucker punch which in last season's semi-finals had seen Borussia Dortmund, already a goal to the good, virtually end United's hopes by increasing their lead before the return leg at Old Trafford was 10 minutes old. Yet this is precisely what happened.

Trezeguet, who had missed the first game with a knee injury, was always going to give Monaco a more forceful presence near goal and the difference he made was soon seen to dramatic effect. In the fifth minute, as Monaco pushed men forward in numbers for the first time, several half-clearances by United ended with Gary Neville getting the ball away but only to Djibril Diawara. He glanced it down to Ali Benarbia, who sent in Trezeguet to beat Raimond van der Gouw with an emphatic shot into the roof of the net.

Thus were Manchester United's worst fears realised. Now they felt the absence of Ryan Giggs even more keenly. Ferguson's anticipated gamble with Giggs had not materialised. The Welshman was set to start the game after a six-match absence with a hamstring injury, but felt a further twinge in training yesterday morning and did not even make the bench.

With David Beckham operating in a central role, United lacked the width necessary to stretch Monaco's tight-marking sweeper system. Solskjaer did bring a roar to Old Trafford's throats when he just failed to make contact with a cross from Beckham, but otherwise Monaco continued to look the more likely to score.

Benarbia, Diawara and John Collins were finding gaps in United's cover almost at will, their careful passes frequently catching the opposition square. At the other end, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham, shackled to their markers, struggled to catch glimpses of goal.

United needed not only to raise the pace but get some accuracy and imagination into their movements. Everything was too predictable, too easy for Franck Dumas, the Monaco libero, and his fellow defenders. A 25-yard free-kick from Beckham curled past the left-hand post 10 minutes before half-time, with Fabien Barthez looking beaten, as set-pieces started to become United's main hope of salvation.

The loss of Paul Scholes for the second half did not help United's cause. Doubtful before the game because of a knee problem, he gave way to Michael Clegg, who moved to right back with Phil Neville pushed forward. Gary Neville had already departed, replaced in defence by Henning Berg just past the half-hour.

It was all the same to Monaco. They continued to play out the match with unhurried, accurate movements, the easy possession won in midfield taking the pressure off their defence.

Then suddenly United were alive again, helped by the German referee Hellmut Krug's sensible application of advantage. After 52nd minutes Dumas brought Nicky Butt down in the penalty area. Krug put whistle to mouth, then waved play on as he saw Beckham in possession and, from a low centre, Solskjaer slid the ball past Barthez to bring the scores level.

Even so, Monaco were in the box seat still, and Collins, taking advantage of Djetou's stealthy advance, thought he had done the job with the cutest of lobs that brought a magnificent stop from Van Der Gouw, a save Schmeichel himself would have been proud of.

Ikpeba made way for Thierry Henry, the competition's six-goal top scorer, on the hour, Monaco expecting more space for the counter as United had to press, even if Benarbia was replaced by Stephane Carnot.

Time was running out, although a flap by Barthez brought new hope, before Beckham's cross reached Solskjaer inside the six-yard box. But when he needed sureness, his touch was poor and Konjic's desperate tackle saved the day.

Van Der Gouw rose to the task again to foil Henry with 10 minutes left, keeping United in it, with Barthez just too quick for Solskjaer as Sheringham tried to slide him in with five minutes left.

United strained every sinew, Berg, socks around his ankles, playing up front, Johnsen also thundering forward for the last hand, Barthez tipping over from Beckham. Two minutes into stoppage time, Beckham was handed his final chance, lacking conviction when he needed it one last time.

Man Utd: Van Der Gouw, G. Neville (Berg 32), Irwin, Johnsen, Beckham, Butt, Cole, Sheringham, P. Neville, Scholes (Clegg 46), Solskjaer. Subs Not Used: Pilkington, May, McClair, Thornley, Curtis. Booked: Butt, Solskjaer. Goals: Solskjaer 53.

AS Monaco: Barthez, Djetou, Dumas, Diawara, Collins, Benarbia (Carnot 66), Trezeguet, Leonard, Sagnol, Konjic (Da Costa 74), Ikpeba Nosa (Henry 60). Subs Not Used: Porato, Pignol, Spehar, Cristanval. Booked: Collins, Da Costa. Goals: Trezeguet 6. Agg (1-1) Att: 53,683.

Referee: Helmut Krug (Germany).