Scholes strike sends United into Moscow final

A stunning goal from Paul Scholes gave Manchester United a 1-0 win over Barcelona on Tuesday to set up an all-English Champions League final against either Liverpool or Chelsea in Moscow next month.

On a night of drama at Old Trafford in which Barcelona played some outstanding attacking football, it was hardly more fitting that Scholes scored the goal that secured his club their place in the showdown at the Luzhniki Stadium on May 21.

Scholes was suspended for United’s epic victory over Bayern Munich in the 1999 final, and Ferguson had already said he would play in the final if they qualified.

He duly responded with a brilliant swerving shot that went high and wide of goalkeeper Victor Valdes in the 14th minute of the semifinal, second leg to give United a 1-0 aggregate victory.

”It was a fantastic goal,” Ferguson told reporters. ”He has come through the ranks here and is one of the great players this club has had.

”We can’t expect him to score 15-20 goals a season like he did when he was younger, but the one he got tonight makes up for all the ones he can no longer score.”

Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard rued his side’s inability to convert chances.

”We did everything but score. It was an even game. If anything we possibly had the better of the play, but the rules state that the team that scores more goals goes through, and we did not score.”

Brilliant defending

It will be United’s third European Cup final following their earlier successes over Benfica at Wembley in 1968 and Bayern at Barcelona in 1999 when they won the treble of European Cup, FA Cup and Premier League. They are now chasing a double of Champions League and Premier League titles.

Barcelona, and especially their Argentine winger Lionel Messi, threatened time and again with some inspired approach play but were thwarted by brilliant defending from United’s back line with defenders Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown outstanding.

The game burst into life from the kickoff with Scholes, making just about his only mistake of the night, fortunate not to concede a penalty for a foul on Messi just inches outside the box after only 30 seconds.

Four free-kicks inside the first three minutes indicated the passion and commitment of both teams, with United looking a different side from the one pinned on the back foot for most of last week’s goalless first leg at the Nou Camp.

Both teams were also looking to get the decisive breakthrough as soon as possible with Messi involved in almost every Barca raid. However it was defender Eric Abidal who had the first goal attempt when his lofted 25m shot just went over the United bar.

Misplaced pass

United though did strike the decisive goal when Cristiano Ronaldo attempted to run at the Barca defence but lost the ball to Gianluca Zambrotta whose misplaced pass found Scholes.

He controlled it, let it bounce and then swerved it past Valdes from 25 yards. It was his 21st goal in his 101st Champions League appearance but only his second goal in any competition this season. Few could have felt better.

United had two good chances to increase their lead in the opening half through Park Ji-sung, who sidefooted wide after 21 minutes and then when Nani headed a Park cross wide after 41 minutes.

Barcelona’s best chance inevitably came from Messi who weaved his way past Scholes and Brown after 20 minutes and forced Edwin van der Sar into a diving clearance before Deco had two good chances to score in three minutes sending his first over the bar and his second narrowly wide.

A chill descended on Old Trafford when Barca brought on Thierry Henry for Andres Iniesta after an hour and United’s old Arsenal nemesis threatened twice, once with a header and then with a shot that Van der Sar did well to save.

But United, with Park and Tevez working tirelessly and Ronaldo firing fitfully, were resolutely dogged and held out for over six minutes of stoppage time to win their 12th straight home match in Europe’s premier club competition.

Chelsea play Liverpool in the second leg of the other semi-final at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, starting 1-1 after last week’s first leg at Anfield.

Ferguson added: ”I couldn’t possibly predict who is going to win that one and I honestly don’t care who we play in the final. We are there, that is the main thing.” – Reuters

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