AS Monaco hosted Bayer Leverkusen at the Stade Louis II for the second leg of the Europa League play-offs on the evening of Thursday, February 23, having beaten the Bundesliga side 2-3 in Germany a week before.
Both teams got stuck in right from kick-off, but it would be Leverkusen who would score first on this occasion, getting ahead by thanks to the efforts of Florian Wirtz at the 13th minute. The hosts were not put off by this early goal, as a penalty was awarded to team captain Wissam Ben Yedder, who converted it with his usual degree of accuracy to level the scoreline 1-1 at the 19th minute.
Monaco were back ahead on aggregate by 3-4, but that moment was short-lived, as Exequiel Palacios got one back for the visitors two minutes later. The Argentinian scored to bring Leverkusen ahead by 1-2 on the pitch, while also levelling the aggregate to 4-4.
The players returned from the locker rooms with everything to play for in the second half of the match, but Leverkusen tipped the scale at the 54th minute, as Amine Adli headed the ball into the corner of the net to get ahead on aggregate, and leave a worried Monaco further behind.
Home fans would sit on the edge of their seats in the stadium for what would have felt like an eternity before a determined Principality side finally found the back of the net to stay in the fight. Having only come into the match as a substitute six minutes prior, Breel Embolo managed to keep the dream alive by smashing the ball off the ground and past Hradecky to level the aggregate to 5-5 at the 84th minute.
The Monegasques surged on looking for that winning goal, and they almost did as Edan Diop was found by a very late cross into the box. The Monaco academy product smashed the ball into the bottom far corner of the Leverkusen goal. However, the goal was tragically denied as the ball was just beyond the sideline as it was whipped into the box.
Both teams were now aware that this high stakes fixture would extend into an additional 30 minutes of extra time, as the full time whistle signalled a 2-3 defeat for Monaco at home against Leverkusen. As Monaco won by the same margin of 2-3 away a week before, both teams were balanced 5-5 in the big picture, and would have to play until one side would be eliminated.
Two exhausted sides continued to fight it out on the pitch in search of success on the European stage, but over the course of two long extra time halves, neither team managed to make the difference. With this, the match moved on to penalties.
Leverkusen’s Sardar Azmoun scored the first penalty of the shootout. Monaco’s Axel Disasi was the team captain at this point, and therefore the defender was the first to take a penalty for the Principality side. Disasi buried a strong shot into the back of the net to make it 1-1 in penalties. Nadiem Aremi followed Azmoun, and slotted the ball past Alexander Nübel who misread the direction of the kick and dived the wrong way.
Next up was youngster Eliot Matazo, who hit the ball with too much force to bounce it off the crossbar and straight back to his own hands, unfortunately not in the goal. With this, Monaco were now behind 1-2 in penalties. Edmund Tsapsoba followed for Leverkusen, and also slotted the ball past a helpless Nübel in between the Principality’s posts to make it three in a row for the visitors. Ever the goalscorer, Embolo scored his penalty with ease to keep the hosts in the shootout, with the score standing at 2-3 on pens now.
Patrick Schick scored from the spot to keep Leverkusen ahead, and then it was the turn of former Leverkusen man Kevin Volland to step up. The German did not fail to score against his former side, keeping Monaco in the fight, but he would be the last Monaco player to shoot, as Moussa Diabi scored the fifth and final penalty goal to win a hard fought match.
After two legs, one longer than the other, Leverkusen and Monaco drew 5-5, but Leverkusen came out on top in the end with five penalties to Monaco’s three. This is the end of the road for the Monegasques in the Europa League, as they bow out of European competition for another year.