Image: Football Soccer – Ajax Amsterdam v Manchester United – UEFA Europa League Final – Friends Arena, Solna, Stockholm, Sweden – 24/5/17 Manchester United celebrate winning the Europa League with the trophy Reuters / Andrew Couldridge
By Philip O’Connor and Richard Martin
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Manchester United’s Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored a goal in each half as their team comfortably outclassed Ajax Amsterdam to win an emotional Europa League final 2-0 and qualify for the group stages of the Champions League.
A minute’s silence held for the victims of Monday’s suicide bombing at a pop concert in Manchester in which 22 people died turned into applause as chants of “Manchester” and “We’ll Never Die” bellowed out from the English supporters before the match.
World record signing Pogba opened the scoring in the 18th minute as United won the ball after an Ajax throw-in, the Frenchman’s shot taking a wicked deflection to wrong-foot goalkeeper Andre Onana and fly into the net.
Mkhitaryan then flicked the ball home early in the second half following a corner and, with chants of “Manchester, Manchester” echoing around the stadium, United held on to win the one European trophy missing from the Old Trafford cabinet.
“We know things like this are very sad all over the world,” said Pogba referring to the attack. “We had to focus. Manchester – we won for them. We played for England, we played for Manchester and we played for them — the people who died.”
“The goal was to win all the way through this season. We’ve done it, and we’re proud,” said Pogba. “People say we’ve had a bad season but the prize is great and we’ve done it now. We have three trophies so enjoy it now,” he added.
United’s triumph followed success in the League Cup and the Community Shield in Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge at Old Trafford with Champions League football secured after United could only manage a sixth-place finish in the Premier League.
“We preferred to reach the Champions League this way than finish fourth, third or second,” said Mourinho. “We got the objective, we are back in the Champions League by winning a title, an important title. The club now has every title in world football. We fought hard for this since the beginning.”
United, wearing all blue as they did in winning the 1968 European Cup final, made an imposing start, with Pogba whistling a shot wide of the near post within the first minute.
The France midfielder was all over the pitch, appearing as a third centre back one moment to head the ball away from danger, channelling pinpoint passes to striker Marcus Rashford the next.
Pogba, who first came to United at the age of 16 before leaving for Juventus, put his side ahead with a hopeful low shot from the edge of the area that was sent looping past Onana in the Ajax goal thanks to a huge deflection from Davinson Sanchez.
Mourinho’s coaching staff flew out of the dugout in celebration but the Portuguese stayed calm.
Ajax, fielding the youngest starting lineup in a European final, were expected to make a quick start as they did in their 4-1 win over Olympique Lyonnais in their semi-final first leg.
Instead the Dutch side were fenced in by United, nullified by Marouane Fellaini and man of the match Ander Herrera in the middle and stretched by Rashford’s darting runs.
They were given no time to settle in the second half as Mkhitaryan leapt to knock Chris Smalling’s knockdown from a corner into the roof of the net after 48 minutes.
Ajax hogged the ball for the rest of the match but rarely looked like getting past United, who saw the game out to preserve Mourinho’s 100 percent record in European finals and deliver the continental trophy missing from their collection.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)