Monaco recaptured some of its past magic as it cruised to a 2-0 victory over second division Niort Wednesday and booked a place in the final of the League Cup against Lyon. In a first-division replay also Wednesday, Strasbourg went down 1-0 to Metz. Displaying some of the skill that won it the championship last season, Monaco scored twice and narrowly missed further stretching its lead on several occasions in the semifinal clash. Niort’s best scoring opportunity came in the 23rd minute when striker Samba N’Diaye’s left-foot shot landed in Monaco goalie Stephane Porato’s arms. Monaco responded three minutes later. Niort ‘keeper Christophe Marichez punched out a goal attempt which forward Marco Simone headed straight back over Marichez and into the net. Monaco defender Christian Panucci headed a corner shot just over the crossbar in the 37th minute, and a second Simone goal two minutes later was discounted for offside. Mexican defender Rafeal Marquez sent a powerful right-footer scraping past the bottom-left edge of the Niort goal moments before the break. Monaco kept up the pressure in the second half, finding reward in the 63rd minute in the shape of a superb lob by Argentine winger Marcelo Gallardo that found the back of the net from 35 meters (yards). Niort lacked the inspiration that took fellow second-division side Gueugnon to victory in the final of the League Cup last year, barely threatening the Monaco goal. Monaco plays Lyon in the final at the Stade de France May 5. Lyon beat Nantes 3-2 in their semifinal clash Tuesday. Monaco, the reigning French champion, has had a disastrous season that has left it 12th in the 18-team first division with four rounds left to play. Relegation became a near certainty for Strasbourg Wednesday after the side fell 1-0 to Metz at home — but no fans were present to witness the defeat. The 22nd-round first division game — carried over from December — was played behind closed doors at Strasbourg’s Meinau stadium.
The original match was disrupted by crowd disorder and soccer authorities banned fans from the replay. The first half featured plenty of scoring opportunities for both sides, but the only goal went to Metz midfielder Philippe Gaillot, who netted a pass from Gerald Baticle in the 52nd minute. After the match, Metz rose to 14th place in the standings, one place above Marseille.
Strasbourg was 17th, one place from bottom. The match was the first to be played behind closed doors in France in 27 years.
The December 21 match was stopped when a firecracker thrown by a fan injured an assistant referee. French referees boycotted the replay, demanding the game be counted a defeat for both sides, and three Bulgarian referees were called in to officiate Wednesday. Strasbourg was leading 1-0 when the December match was interrupted.