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Scholes puts Man Utd in final

April 03, 2004 19:11 IST

Manchester United shattered Arsenal's hopes of a third successive FA Cup triumph with a 1-0 victory over the holders in a ferocious semi-final at Villa Park on Saturday.

Paul Scholes's well taken 32nd-minute strike put United through to a final in Cardiff on May 22 where they will start strong favourites against either first division Millwall or Sunderland, who meet in the other semi-final on Sunday.

United's gutsy victory, achieved without injured striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, was especially sweet as it kept alive their only realistic hope of winning a trophy this season and ended their bitter London rivals' aim of matching United's 1999 trophy Treble.

Arsenal, whose gamble of leaving key striker Thierry Henry on the bench failed, hit the woodwork twice through midfielders Edu and Patrick Vieira. But the English premier league leaders were second best on the day and must now gather their senses quickly for Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final second-leg match against Chelsea.

The match was a repetition of the 1999 thriller between the two sides, which United won with a spectacular Ryan Giggs goal and, despite both teams starting without their leading strikers, their attacking intent was obvious from the first whistle.

In the third minute, United goalkeeper Roy Carroll blocked a Dennis Bergkamp shot and Wes Brown cleared the Dutchman's follow-up off the line.

From the corner Arsenal's Brazilian midfielder Edu chipped against the bar and Carroll did well to keep out Kolo Toure's point-blank header.

At the other end United's Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo was creating havoc down the Arsenal left and that flank was the source of Scholes's strike after 32 minutes.

Gary Neville played Ryan Giggs into a gaping hole and his cross was slammed in by the England midfielder from 10 metres.

Arsenal responded and on the stroke of halftime captain Vieira glanced a free kick by Robert Pires, who had earlier headed a decent chance over, against the post with Carroll beaten.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger resisted the temptation to bring on Henry at the start of the second half but after 58 minutes sent on the Frenchman and Spanish striker Jose Antonio Reyes for Pires and the ineffective Jeremie Aliadiere.

Arsenal improved and Reyes, Henry and Edu all fired off target.

In the dying seconds Freddie Ljungberg's cross found Reyes but his weak shot fell into the arms of Carroll and when the final whistle came, United and their manager Alex Ferguson celebrated as if they had won the cup already.

They will now seek a record 11th FA Cup triumph, having extended their extraordinary run of consecutive semi-final victories in the world's oldest knockout competition to 11.

Bill Barclay
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