Sat, May 13, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Manchester United, Ajax to battle for Europa title

AFP, MANCHESTER, England

RC Celta de Vigo’s Pablo Hernandez, left, vies for the ball with Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini in their UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, on Thursday.

Photo: AP

Manchester United on Thursday survived a sizable scare to reach their first UEFA Europa League final after a nervy 1-1 draw with RC Celta de Vigo completed a 2-1 aggregate victory.

Jose Mourinho’s side are to play a youthful Ajax team in the final at Stockholm’s Friends Arena on May 24, when they can complete their trophy collection and — perhaps more importantly — book a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Ajax advanced to their first European final in 21 years, despite a 3-1 defeat to Olympique Lyonnais in France, the Dutch side progressing 5-4 on aggregate.

Marouane Fellaini’s 17th-minute header put United 2-0 up on aggregate, but Celta hit back late on through Facundo Roncaglia, who was then sent off along with United’s Eric Bailly following a center circle shoving contest.

Appearing in their first European semi-final, Eduardo Berizzo’s Celta gave United several uncomfortable moments and there was panic in the hosts’ box during the fraught closing stages.

Both managers reverted to the teams that had started last week’s first leg, which meant a United return for Paul Pogba, whose world-record transfer from Juventus is being investigated by FIFA.

United started shakily, with Blind looking particularly uncertain, and there were early murmurs of concern around Old Trafford when Iago Aspas cut in from the right and obliged Sergio Romero to tip his rasping shot over.

An audacious juggling show from Pogba roused the crowd and United tightened their grip on the tie when Marcus Rashford’s sumptuous cross from the left was headed in at the back post by Fellaini.

The goal had the effect of freeing United from their shackles, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard and Pogba all arrowing shots over the bar.

However, Celta served reminders of their threat as the first half drew to a close, Pablo Hernandez, Pione Sisto and John Guidetti working Romero and Daniel Wass heading wide from Sisto’s dangerous drilled cross.

Celta continued to probe in the second half, with Guidetti thrashing centimeters wide from Sisto’s layoff and heading off target from Mallo’s cross.

Roncaglia’s looping 85th-minute header set the scene for a nerve-racking finale, but despite losing Bailly, United held on.

Meanwhile, Ajax looked to have killed their tie against Lyon following their 4-1 win in last week’s home leg when Kasper Dolberg gave them a 27th-minute lead.

However, a quick-fire double right at the end of the first period from Alexandre Lacazette — the first from the penalty spot — gave the French side hope.

Substitute Rachid Ghezzal’s heavily deflected header nine minutes from time made it 3-1 on the night and Dutch international Nick Viergever’s sending off gave Lyon extra impetus.

However, they could not find an all-important fourth goal to send the tie into extra time.

Instead, Ajax are to play their first final in this competition since winning the trophy in 1992 and their first European final since losing to Juventus in the Champions League in 1996.

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