Manchester United lifted the Europa League trophy to claim their second major trophy of the season and secure Champions League football as they overcame Ajax to win the Europa League final in Stockholm.
On an emotional night following the attack which killed 22 people at Ariana Grande’s concert at the Manchester Arena on Monday, United’s fans were allowed a measure of celebration as Jose Mourinho’s side won in comfort.
Paul Pogba’s deflected strike and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s close-range goal secured United’s second trophy of the season and a result which may offer some joy to the city of Manchester following a devastating week.
The celebrations of the fans and players at the full-time whistle were, however, tempered by thoughts of the terrorist attack at Manchester Arena on Monday evening, which prompted heightened security at the Friends Arena and a sombre build-up to the showpiece match.
Stockholm knows all too well the impact of such an attack as just last month five people were killed by a hijacked truck in the city centre, meaning security around the game had already been beefed up.
Mourinho’s men wore black armbands in Stockholm, where a minute’s silence quickly turned into applause.
But the world’s most expensive player only had to wait until the 18th minute for the breakthrough, which followed a terrible throw-in from Jairo Riedewald, presenting the ball to Juan Mata in a dangerous area.
The ball was worked to Pogba, via Marouane Fellaini, and the Frenchman’s 20-yard shot took a wicked deflection off the knee of Davinson Sanchez giving wrong-footed goalkeeper Andre Onana no chance of keeping it out.
It was a cruel moment for Ajax, but the goal was a just reward for a dominant, controlled first-half display from United and they might have doubled their advantage when captain Antonio Valencia’s fine run and shot from a tight angle forced Onana to beat the ball away.
But the second goal arrived just three minutes into the second half and it came from another of Mourinho’s summer signings following a Mata corner.
Chris Smalling nodded the ball down for Mkhitaryan inside the six-yard box and the Armenian leapt to hook the ball past Onana, sparking vigorous celebrations and more ‘Manchester’ chants.
The goal was a bitter blow for an Ajax team with an average age of just over 22 who rarely threatened Sergio Romero – and things might have gotten worse when Fellaini headed Pogba’s cross straight at the goalkeeper or when substitute Jesse Lingard was denied by a last-ditch Sanchez tackle in the closing minutes.
Club captain Wayne Rooney was introduced from the bench in the 89th minute for what might prove to be a farewell appearance, as United held on to add the Europa League to the EFL Cup they won in February and ensure there will be five Premier League teams playing in the Champions League next season.
Europa League glory means United join Ajax, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Juventus as the only clubs to have won all three major UEFA trophies, including the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup, as well as the Club World Cup or the Intercontinental Cup.
Meanwhile, Zlatan has his picture taken in front of a huge banner that reads: ZLATAN – STAY AND YOU CAN SHAG MY WIFE.