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Bring on Barça or the Blues. United will be in Rome on 27 May to defend the Champions League trophy.

The Champions League holders turned in a flawless away performance to completely dismantle Arsene Wenger's Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, killing the tie through early goals from Ji-sung Park and Cristiano Ronaldo, before the Portuguese added gloss to the scoreline with a breakaway third.

The only sour note for United came through the late dismissal of Darren Fletcher. The Scot will miss the final after being incorrectly punished for bringing down Cesc Fabregas inside the United area, allowing Robin van Persie to hammer home a late penalty.

That made for a cruel end to the evening for Fletcher who, like each and every one of his colleagues, had been magnificent in overcoming the Gunners. It was in stark contrast to the manner in which the evening began, as United put the tie to bed inside 11 minutes.

Arsenal supporters had been encouraged to whip up a frenzied atmosphere to try and help their side overcome a single goal deficit brought about by John O'Shea's first leg strike at Old Trafford, but the Emirates' noise levels dipped irretrievably after seven minutes.

United's mantra had been obvious from the first whistle: counter attack. On the Reds' second such foray, Anderson slipped in Ronaldo, who had been detailed with the lone striker's role by virtue of his searing pace, and the Portuguese fizzed a low ball across the area. Teenage full-back Kieran Gibbs slipped at the crucial moment, allowing Park to pinch the ball and slip a shot over Manuel Almunia and into the goal.

The pocket of some 3,500 United fans behind the opposite goal burst into a frenzied celebration, onewhich was still ongoing when Ronaldo put the tie out of sight just four minutes later. Having won a free-kick 40 yards from goal, he sent a trademark rocket towards Almunia's left-hand corner, and the Spaniard was unable to read the ball's flight. Game over, tie over, start packing the bags for Rome.

Arsenal, understandably, were rocked. The half-hour mark had arrived before the hosts even tested Edwin van der Sar, and it was a tame header from Fabregas which called the Dutchman into action. Either side of the Spaniard's effort, Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo drew impressive saves from Almunia.

With the Reds' backline in imperious, unbreachable mood, it was left to the forwards to surge forward and exploit the inevitable gaps in Arsenal's foraging formation. Ronaldo had already seen one breakaway end with an Almunia save before he struck a superb third goal.

Nemanja Vidic headed an Arsenal corner as far as the Portuguese, who impishly backheeled a pass to Park before high-tailing it towards the Gunners' area. He reached his destination at the same time as Rooney's perfectly-weighted pass, and drilled a fine shot high into Almunia's goal. Cue delirium among the United supporters, and a mass exodus by their Arsenal counterparts.

With Patrice Evra and Rooney at risk of missing the final with another booking, they were quickly hooked for Rafael and Dimitar Berbatov, while Ryan Giggs replaced Anderson after another impressive outing from the young Brazilian.

There was more of a hint of irony, then, when Fletcher raced back to superbly touch the ball away from Fabregas deep inside the United area, only for referee Roberto Rosetti to award a penalty and brandish the red card at the heartbroken Scot.
Van Persie drilled home the resultant kick as Fletcher trudged down the tunnel, joining Roy Keane and Paul Scholes on the list of United players unfortunate enough to have been ruled out of European football's greatest showpiece by suspension.

While dismay was ultimately the order of the day for Fletch, the overall mood among the United camp must be one of elation after one of the most emphatic European away displays in memory. The Reds are off to Rome, where Barcelona or Chelsea - both vanquished last season - will await. Forza United!

digit-8.com said...
May 25, 2009, 3:51:00 PM  

Where is your blogroll? looking for a link exchange

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