For one whole minute Chelsea had a foot in the Champions League final. Frank Lampard had just finished off a wonderful three-player move to put us ahead on away goals when Monaco found our defensive Achilles’ heel and scrambled a goal with the last touch of the first half.
It was a cruel end to a first half of breathtaking football worthy of a worldwide television audience. It continued in the second half until Morientes scored a well-worked equaliser on the hour to take all the air out of the occasion. Three more Chelsea goals were just not going to happen.
Let there be no searching for scapegoats or second-guessing of Ranieri. For 44 minutes and 59 seconds, Chelsea showed the world all that is wonderful about football, creating chance after chance with marvellous skill allied to speed and determination. Monaco played their part, too, showing in their occasional forays into the Chelsea end that they possessed the skill and speed to exploit any defensive lapse. And Swedish referee Anders Frisk allowed the game to flow and deserves top marks for his performance, even though he has been in the middle each time we’ve exited the Champions League.
The selection of Hasselbaink instead of Crespo was a surprise, but Jimmy was up for it from the first minute when he broke through the middle and forced the Monaco goalie to save low to his left. It wasn’t his best finish, but he created the chance himself.
It was the signal for wave after wave of blue-shirted attacks through the middle, down the wings, in the air. There was no way the French defence could hold out.
The first goal should have come after 15 minutes when Geremi fired in a bullet shot similar to Makelele’s at Highbury in the last round. Roma failed to hold it and it bounced out to Joe Cole who fired horribly wide with the goal at his mercy.
A minute later, Cole tried to make amends by sending Jimmy through on goal. His angled shot was straight at the keeper whose face deflected it for a corner.
When the first goal did arrive on 21 minutes it was from Gronkjaer who cut in from the right touchline and fired a swerving left-foot cross over the Monaco goalie who did a fair impersonation of David Seaman. Was it a shot? Chelsea fans who have seen Gronkjaer’s crosses know the answer.
We had the early goal we needed and the Bridge shook with delight.
Within a couple of minutes, Monaco served a taste of the future. A cross from the right found Morientes alone in the area and his shot was slightly deflected by an onrushing John Terry onto the right-hand post. A warning of things to come.