Happy ending for grieving Man U

May 25, 2017
Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates scoring during their Europa League final match between Ajax and Manchester United at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

STOCKHOLM (AP):

A guttural roar of "Manchester, Manchester" thundered around the Friends Arena at the full-time whistle.

Purely in football terms, Manchester United's 2-0 win over Ajax in the Europa League final yesterday was a triumph of huge significance for England's biggest club.

On a wider level, it was also a moment to cheer for the team's home city, grieving 2,000 kilometres away.

Manchester was plunged into tragedy on Monday when 22 people were killed by a bomb attack at an Ariana Grande concert in the city centre. United's players were clearly moved by the events and flew to Sweden with heavy hearts, vowing to deliver a display in their biggest match of the season that would serve as a tribute to the victims and their families.

That they succeeded in doing so was a testament to their strength of character. It made this victory, in a largely forgettable match, one to remember.

"Yesterday morning, we were devastated," said United midfielder Ander Herrera, dedicating the win to the victims. "But the manager told us the only thing we could do was to win this for them. That's what we've done.

"It's just a football game, just a trophy, but if we can support them with this just one per cent, it's enough for us."

Paul Pogba scored off a deflected shot in the 18th minute - the France midfielder pointed to the sky during his celebrations - and Henrikh Mkhitaryan added a second goal in the 48th by deftly hooking home a close-range effort from a corner.

 

Huge weight

 

In tough circumstances, United handled the occasion better than an Ajax side featuring six players aged 21 or under and playing in the famous Dutch club's first European final in 21 years.

"I haven't seen the Ajax that I am used to," Ajax coach Peter Bosz said. "They are not used to play a final. It was all new for them."

For United coach Jose Mourinho, it was obvious that the victory was a huge weight off his shoulders, because of both the emotions of the last few days and the importance of the match. Mourinho was thrown up in the air by his coaching staff in the post-match celebrations, he rolled around on the ground with his son, and jumped up and down in frenzied fashion just before United captain Wayne Rooney lifted the trophy.

United's season was always going to be defined by this game. In Mourinho's first season at Old Trafford, he has guided the team to two trophies the League Cup in February and a place in next season's Champions League, the bonus prize for winning the Europa League.

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