By Izuchukwu Okosi:
Manchester United on Wednesday night at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden became the third English side to win the UEFA Europa League with a 2-0 defeat of Ajax in the final and thereby booked their place in the group stages of the 2017/2018 UEFA Champions League.
Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were the scorers for United who finished in sixth place in the English Premier League behind Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal.
They will now represent England in the Champions League along with Chelsea, Tottenham, City and Liverpool (who will go through the play-offs)
United, mourning victims of the bomb blast in Manchester on Tuesday night and honouring the victims by wearing black bands on the night, were unbeaten in their previous 10 Europa League games and flattered to deceive on their way to the final with a 2-1 aggregate win over Celta Vigo in the semifinals while Ajax defeated Lyon 5-4 on aggregate also in the last four stages of the competition.
Jose Mourinho’s United became the seventh English club to reach the Europa League final in the 21st century. Liverpool (2001) and Chelsea (2013) lifted the trophy but Arsenal (2000), Middlesbrough (2006), Fulham (2010) and Liverpool again (2016) all tasted defeat in the Finals.
The opening goal of the final came in the 18th minute when Pogba’s shot at the edge of the box ended up in Ajax goal through a deflection off defender Davinson Sanchez with the Dutch side’s goalkeeper, Andre Onana, unable to readjust his positioning after going to his left side.
Ajax produced a promising counter attacking move in the 33rd minute when Pogba lost possession of the ball but United dealt with the threat.
Marcus Rashford almost dispossessed Sanchez of the ball two minutes before the end of the first half but the Colombian defender was lucky to recover from his moment of laxity and cleared the ball away from danger.
Mkhitaryan scored United’s goal in the 47th minute with a clever flick off a corner kick and a Chris Smalling’s header. It was the Armenian’s sixth goal in 11 Europa league matches this season.
Jesse Lingard raced towards goal in the 87th minute but a chasing Sanchez caught up with him and cleared the ball out of danger.