Scholes seals final spot
Manchester United made sure it will be an all-English Champions League final with a 1-0 victory over Barcelona.
By Lewis Rutledge
Last Updated: 29/04/08 11:25pm
Manchester United made sure it will be an all-English UEFA Champions League final with a 1-0 victory over Barcelona.
In a pulsating encounter at Old Trafford, Paul Scholes' unstoppable first-half strike was enough to secure an aggregate success for Sir Alex Ferguson's side following the goalless draw at Camp Nou.
Barcelona kept battling until the final whistle but United were heroic in defence and limited the Spanish side to few, if any, clear-cut openings.
Injuries contributed to United's demise in the semi-finals 12 months ago and Ferguson was dealt a double blow prior to kick-off when Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic were both ruled out with the problems they picked up against Chelsea at the weekend.
The best chance of the first leg came when Barca conceded a penalty in the opening minutes and within 60 seconds United almost repaid the favour as Scholes brought down Lionel Messi just outside the area.
Messi failed to make the most of the free-kick but the young Argentine was a real menace early on as Barcelona carried on where they left off last week and dominated possession.
The visitors were stunned, however, in the 14th minute when Gianluca Zambrotta tackled Cristiano Ronaldo but then surrendered the ball to Scholes.
The veteran midfielder was almost 30 yards from goal but he is not a player to look a gift horse in the mouth and immediately unleashed a thunderous shot that left Victor Valdes grasping at thin air as it swerved straight into the top corner.
Messi nearly silenced the cheers of the United supporters five minutes later as he embarked on a trademark run from deep, skipping away from Scholes and Brown before drawing Edwin van der Sar into a fine save from the edge of the area.
Barcelona have been desperately out of form domestically and looked vulnerable in defence as United looked to set a fast tempo. Ronaldo was proving a handful and the Portuguese winger set up Park Ji-sung to sidefoot agonisingly wide.
Barca were much more confident coming forward and Deco twice came close to bringing the scores level with efforts from distance, first clipping over and then dragging wide after a neat move.
Patrice Evra then had to come to Van der Sar's rescue with a terrific challenge on Samuel Eto'o after the goalkeeper had dived full-length to catch a Messi cross but spilled the ball.
Nani had an opportunity to give United a two-goal lead at the break as he beat Eric Abidal in the air to connect with a pinpoint delivery from the impressive Park, but his glancing header flew a foot past the post.
Play continued to fluctuate from end to end as the second half got under way but it was United who appeared likeliest to grab the next goal.
Barcelona had Abidal to thank as the French left-back cut out a pass from Ronaldo towards Nani in the centre, before Tevez played a one-two with the newly-crowned PFA Player of the Year and stung the palms of Valdes with a shot from a tight angle.
Nani then burst into the box after combining well with Ronaldo, but showed no composure as he blazed high into the crowd from a good position.
Frank Rijkaard recognised that he needed to change things on the hour mark and replaced Andres Iniesta with former Arsenal forward Thierry Henry, but the momentum was with United and the home side continued to threaten a second.
Barcelona were restricted to hopeful long-range strikes as the clock ticked down, although Deco's free-kick sent Van der Sar scrambling as it was deflected narrowly wide.
United's makeshift backline of Owen Hargreaves at right-back, Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown in the middle and Evra on the left, were immense as time and again they disrupted promising Barcelona attacks.
Henry directed a header straight at Van der Sar from Xavi's corner as United sat further back, although Ronaldo nearly gave United some breathing space with a drilled shot wide on the break.The 1-0 scoreline ensured the tension remained right to the death but United clung on to secure their passage to next month's final in Moscow, where they will face either Chelsea or Liverpool.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Barcelona|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|2||Shots on Target||3|
|5||Shots off Target||4|