MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United survived a late scare against Celta Vigo to stumble into the Europa League final on Thursday, keeping alive its hopes of winning the only major trophy missing from the English club’s collection.
United drew the second leg of their tension-filled semifinal 1-1 to advance 2-1 on aggregate, but only after Celta squandered two chances in the final seconds to snatch the biggest win in its history.
In the game’s last attack and with Celta needing one goal to go through on away goals, Claudio Beauvue chose to cross the ball instead of shooting from close range with only the goalkeeper to beat. Even then, it landed at the feet of John Guidetti, who couldn’t wrap his foot around the ball with a goal at his mercy.
The final whistle was blown moments later and Celta’s players slumped to the ground, some of them holding their heads in their hands and others in tears.
“I feel really, really sorry for them,” said United manager Jose Mourinho, whose first reaction at fulltime was to console rival manager Eduardo Berizzo rather than celebrate with his players or United fans.
Not for the first time this season, Mourinho was left to praise the battling qualities of his players, who will play Ajax in the final in Stockholm on May 24 after the Dutch club ousted Lyon 5-4 on aggregate despite losing the second leg 3-1.
Mourinho could end his first season at United with two trophies — he has already won the League Cup — and a place in the Champions League, which is guaranteed for the winner of the Europa League.
This was too close for comfort, though. Mourinho looked racked with nerves throughout the second half even though United was holding a two-goal cushion.
Protecting a 1-0 lead from the first leg, United doubled the advantage when Marouane Fellaini headed home Marcus Rashford’s cross in the 17th minute.
Celta dominated the second half as United dropped deep, and Facundo Roncaglia headed home in the 85th minute to set up a nervy finish.
Roncaglia and United defender Eric Bailly were both red-carded in the 87th minute for separate incidents in a mass melee, meaning Bailly will miss the final through suspension.
Sustained late pressure by Celta, playing in its first European semifinal, couldn’t produce the winning goal.
“They’re obviously hurting very much in the dressing room,” Berizzo said. “They’re solid, good footballers. They played the game really well, responded well to the atmosphere and I’ve told them they will get another chance.”
United has won the European Cup or Champions League three times, and the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup once. Now the team gets a chance to complete the set of European trophies.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80