MONACO, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Striker Marco Simone stunned Sturm Graz with a first half hat-trick as Monaco kept their Champions League hopes alive with a 5-0 victory on Wednesday.
The French champions, who knew a win was vital after losing their first two games in Group D, went ahead in the 13th minute when Simone scored from 10 metres.
The Italian added his second in the 38th minute after goalkeeper Josef Schiklgruber could only parry the ball into his path. And he put the issue beyond doubt with a lob from outisde the penalty area four minutes before the break.
Monaco moved up to third in the group on three points, three behind leaders Galatasaray and Rangers.
'I'm really pleased because I can't remember scoring three goals since I have played in France,' Simone said. 'I hit a hat-trick with AC Milan against Rosenborg but it's far away in my career.'
Monaco coach Claude Puel replaced playmaker Ludovic Giuly with youngster Nicolas Bonnal at half time and later sent on Croat Dado Prso for Simone.
Prso set up his side's fourth goal for Swede Pontus Farnerud on for captain Martin Djetou, in the 76th minute before Shabani Nonda netted from close range six minutes from time.
'Tonight's match confirmed our improvement,' said Puel. 'The result is great because it brings back some serenity in the squad and it leaves an open door towards the qualification.'
Monaco had displayed signs of nerves early on and Graz, looking to follow up their victory over Galatasaray last week, almost scored in the 20th minute when striker Hannes Reinmayr volleyed against the post.