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Simeone stars in Monaco Mauling
Marco Simone became the first player in the history of the UEFA Champions League to score a second hat-trick in the competition as AS Monaco destroyed Austria's SK Sturm Graz at the Stade Louis II.
Shabani Nonda and substitute Pontus Farnerud also found the net in the second-half after Simone, who scored a Champions League hat-trick for Milan AC against Rosenborg almost exactly four years ago, carved his name into European football history by repeating the feat with three goals in 28 first half minutes to put Monaco firmly in control with the fourth fastest Champions League hat-trick.
Simone seems to specialise in making Champions League history - his triple strike for Milan is the tournament's second fastest ever. The Italian was simply devastating. He tore the Sturm defence apart before being withdrawn to a standing ovation in the 56th minute. That gave Sturm some respite but Monaco's three substitutes - Farnerud, Dado Prso and Nicolas Bonnal - were instrumental in turning a comfortable win into a rout. Bonnal was particularly impressive and laid Monaco's fourth on a plate for Farnerud.
Simone delivered a 10th minute corner to the far post where Martin Djetou side-footed over before, scoring his and Monaco's first of the night three minutes later. The Sturm defence failed to capitalise on two chances to clear their lines near the edge of the penalty area and then did not track Simone, who made the most of the time and space afforded to him by rifling the ball past Jasef Schicklgruber and into the corner of the net.
Sturm were comprehensively beaten but will look back on a squandered opportunity by Hannes Reinmayr in the 19th minute. Had he not fired wastefully wide from an excellent position with his side still in the contest, perhaps the result would have been different.
But the margin between the two teams was one man, not one missed chance. Simone was unstoppable and deserved to see his accurate long ball to Nonda finished with better then a shinned volley wide, before testing the goalkeeper with a long range effort Schicklgruber did well to hold.
But Schicklgruber could not thwart Simone in the 38th minute - although he was desperately unlucky not to do so. He saved Xavier Gravelinaine's shot and then recovered to keep out Simone's follow-up. But Simone made no mistake with his second attempt, drilling the ball into the net with his right foot.
Having been unfortunate to concede a second goal, Schicklgruber had no one but himself to blame when Simone netted his and Monaco's third three minutes later. Only Schicklgruber knows why he raced from his line to try and claim a hopeful long ball Ranko Popovic seemed likely to cope with. When Simone turned inside Popovic, Schicklgruber found himself completely stranded and Monaco's hero gratefully tucked away his fourth goal in three Champions League games.
Monaco and more specifically, that man Simone, started the second half as they ended the first - tormenting a visiting side that barely managed to venture beyond the halfway line. Nonda had a great chance to score on 53 minutes, but failed to keep his free header on target.
Simone was taken off but after a brief quiet spell, but Monaco began to turn on the style once more and Simone's replacement - Prso - impressed after entering the fray, cutting in from the right and seeing his driven effort charged down.
Bonnal was introduced to the action with 16 minutes remaining and was also quick to join in the fun, worrying the Sturm defence with several sortees down the right. But Farnerud made an even more immediate impression when he scored just two minutes after coming on. Bonnal again bulldozed his way to the right-hand by-line and pulled the ball back for his fellow substitute to convert from close range.
A fifth seemed inevitable and duly arrived with six minutes to go. Nonda deserved a goal for his tireless work up front and after superbly weaving his way past two challenges, poked the ball home after his first effort was blocked by the beleaguered Schicklgruber.
Monaco fight on
And to think that Monaco came into this match with their Champions League future on the line. Two defeats meant that another failure would have virtually eliminated them from the competition. This was a thorough test of the French champions' mettle, and one they passed in superb style.