Saturday, June 15, 2024

Scholes launches United march on Moscow

A superb long-range strike from Paul Scholes sent Manchester United into the first all-English final of the Champions League after a nerve-tingling 1-0 win over Barcelona here on Tuesday.

After a goalless first-leg, the midfielder's 14th minute strike was enough to ensure Sir Alex Ferguson's side will face either Chelsea or Liverpool in Moscow on May 21.

“It is marvellous. This club deserves to be in the final,” said a jubilant Ferguson as he celebrated with his players.

Scholes has earned himself the opportunity to make up for the final he missed through suspension when United last lifted European football's biggest prize, in 1999.

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

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.”

The contrasting domestic fortunes of the two clubs formed a backdrop to the match that was tilted significantly in favour of the visitors.

Having already conceded defeat in the battle for the Spanish title, Frank Rijkaard had been able to rest the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Samuel Eto'o at the weekend and his squad was further bolstered by the return of skipper Carles Puyol, who missed the first leg through suspension, to the centre of defence.

In contrast, and as Ferguson had feared, the hangover from Saturday's Premier League defeat at Chelsea lingered long and painfully enough to deprive him of the services of both Vidic and Rooney.

United fans' disquiet over the absence of two of the cornerstones of the club's success this season would hardly have been allayed by a nervy start in which Scholes tripped Messi dangerously close to the edge of the box and a wildly sliced clearance by goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar presented Eto'o with the chance to power threateningly into the box.

Yet it was United who went ahead after Rio Ferdinand emerged from defence to launch their first serious foray into the visitors' territory.

The England defender found Ronaldo on the outskirts of the Barca box, under close supervision from Xavi. The Spain midfielder's well-timed tackle succeeded in depriving United's top goalscorer of possession but his intervention also presented Scholes with the kind of shooting opportunity he relishes.

From nearly 30 yards, the outside-of-the-boot strike sent the ball spinning beyond the left glove of Victor Valdes and up into the top corner of the net.

Rattled, Barcelona almost conceded again almost immediately when Valdes fumbled Nani's free-kick and Park Ji-Sung was unfortunate to see a side-footed shot slide inches wide after being set up by Ronaldo.

In between those two chances, Messi forced van der Sar into his first save of the evening and his team-mate Deco should have given the goalkeeper further work around the half-hour mark, when the Portuguese playmaker failed to hit the target with a couple of good edge-of-the area opportunities around the half hour mark.

United's chances were not as numerous but of better quality, notably when Nani's glancing header from Park's inswinging cross from the left slipped as narrowly wide as the Korean's earlier shot.

Gaby Milito came agonisingly close to connecting with Xavi's freekick, whipped in at pace from the right just before the break, but United were doing a good job of restricting their opponents to shots from distance while continuing to threaten on the counter-attack.

Nani was prevented, by the close attentions of Puyol, from diverting Ronaldo's cutback goalwards early in the second half and then blasted high into the Stretford End after working his way into the box.

At the other end, United were relieved to see a free-kick from Deco deflect off the top of their wall for a corner.

But Barcelona's cutting edge remained suffiently blunt for both Iniesta and Eto'o to be withdrawn with nearly half an hour to play, allowing Thierry Henry and Bojan Krkic their chance to pierce United's back line.

Henry had his chance with ten minutes left but his back-post header was directed straight into the arms of a relieved van der Sar.


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