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Man Utd prepare for Champions League final

Paul Scholes has scored dozens of crucial goals for Manchester United over the years but none of them has been quite as precious as the sublime strike that sent Sir Alex Ferguson's squad into the Champions League final.

Scholes, along with Roy Keane, famously missed United's triumph over Bayern Munich in the 1999 final through suspension and Ferguson admitted he was delighted to see one of his most loyal servants claim the opportunity to make up for lost time with a stunning long-range strike in Tuesday night's 1-0 win over Barcelona at Old Trafford.

“It is great for Paul to be in the final,” Ferguson said after watching the midfielder unleash a 14th-minute shot that ensured an all-English final in Moscow next month.

“He is one of the great players, he came through the ranks at the club and I am so pleased for him.

“It was a fantastic goal. You can't expect him to score 15 or 20 goals a season for you now like he did when was younger.

“But when he gets one like that it makes up for the ones he can't score because of his age. It was a marvellous moment for him.”

Scholes deserved to savour the moment, as did the rest of a United side who made light of the absence of Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney with a mature display which made Barcelona pay a high price for their failure to turn long periods of domination in terms of territory and possession into clear chances.

“We had to dig deep at the end because they put us under pressure,” said Rio Ferdinand, who was outstanding in United's back four.

“It was our discipline and a moment of quality from a fantastic player that got us through. We don't care who we play in the final. Whoever comes we will be ready.”

Ferguson added: “We needed a fantastic performance and we got one. We kept our concentration at the back, protected the space really well and our play up front was really good. We could have scored three or four goals.”

United started nervously but scored what proved to the decisive goal inside the opening quarter of an hour, Scholes latching on to a loose ball and unleashing an unstoppable drive from the best part of 30 yards.

Ferguson's men also had to endure some intense late pressure but they conceded little in the way of clear-cut chances, while both Park Ji-Sung and Nani came within inches of adding to the Scholes's strike.

“If you are 1-0 down you have got to give it a go and they did that,” Ferguson said before acknowledging: “It was a bit of a hang-on job at the end but they did not create many chances which is down to our defenders.”

Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard, who insisted he would not quit in the wake of the defeat, could not resist a dig about what he sees as a lack of adventure among the English clubs currently dominating the tournament.

But Ferguson declined to rise to the bait. “We are there in the final and that is an important thing in this year (the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster).

“It does not matter who we play, we deserve to be there. Our form throughout the tournament has been fantastic, we have shown good discipline and been tactically very good.”

Ferguson is also counting on the feelgood factor generated by Tuesday night's performance spilling over on to the domestic front, where United need to beat West Ham on Saturday and Wigan on May 11 to wrap up the Scot's 10th Premier League title.

“It certainly won't do us any harm, that is for sure,” he said. “And if the fans on Saturday are like they were for the Barcelona match, we have got a fantastic chance.”

Wed 30 April, 2008
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