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Marcus Rashford scored in extra time to send Manchester United into the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League, beating Anderlecht 2-1 in the home leg of their quarter-final clash to win 3-2 on aggregate.
The two teams were forced into extra time after first-half goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Sofiane Hanni replicated the first-leg result, but Rashford showed supreme composure in the 107th minute to keep United’s European hopes alive.
United manager Jose Mourinho may be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic for upcoming fixtures, meanwhile, after the Swede suffered a knee injury at the end of the 90 minutes to cap off a disastrous night in front of goal.
Although the Red Devils may not have been at their most clinical in front of goal, the Guardian‘s Daniel Harris was pleased to see the hosts so relentless in their pursuit of victory:
Daniel Harris @DanielHarris
Whatever happens from here, this has been a proper United onslaught, which is nice to see.
4/20/2017, 9:15:43 PM
The Red Devils had the upper hand after netting an away goal in their trip to the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium last Thursday, but that didn’t stop the hosts from firing out of the blocks in the return trip.
And Mkhitaryan replicated that performance by providing the breakthrough once more following a speedy run through enemy lines from Rashford, finishing his chance in front of goal in two touches, via BT Sport:
BT Sport Football @btsportfootball
Henrikh Mkhitaryan LOVES the Europa League!
That’s his fifth goal in the competition. 🔥 https://t.co/b1C0YABamq
4/20/2017, 7:18:58 PM
There was cause for concern, however, when Marcos Rojo was forced to leave the pitch on a stretcher after only 23 minutes, having seemingly felt the effects of a knock that he was unable to shrug off.
The Argentinian’s blow may not have been felt as much last season, but Duncan Castles of The Times illustrated the important role he’s adopted since Mourinho took over last summer:
Duncan Castles @DuncanCastles
Hard to imagine saying this nine months ago, but Marcos Rojo’s injury an immense blow to Manchester United’s season. #MUNAND #ARG
4/20/2017, 7:29:06 PM
Daley Blind came on as Rojo’s replacement, but it was hardly a coincidence to see Anderlecht dreaming of bigger things with the ball following his departure, and Reds goalkeeper Sergio Romero was tested on occasion.
The stopper then came across a test he couldn’t pass. Youri Tielemans’ shot from the edge of the area was deflected up on to Romero’s bar, and Hanni was on hand to slam home the ricochet after United failed to clear, per the Manchester Evening News‘ Stuart Mathieson:
Stuart Mathieson @StuMathiesonMEN
United have looked at sixes and sevens at back since Rojo went off. Now Anderlecht make them pay. Hanni 1-1 #mufc
4/20/2017, 7:37:41 PM
Anderlecht ended the first period with much more of a wind in their sails than they previously boasted, and there was no longer a sense this was United’s for the taking; instead, a fair contest had broken out.
Luke Shaw, having been somewhat culpable for Anderlecht’s equaliser, came close to creating a second goal for United soon after the restart, but Jesse Lingard couldn’t slide in on time to convert his ball across the face of goal.
Marouane Fellaini came on in place of Lingard on the hour mark to offer Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick more support in midfield, leaving Mkhitaryan and Rashford to patrol in attack closer to Ibrahimovic.
The move almost yielded the desired effect around 70 minutes, too, when Rashford rounded the ‘keeper before failing to recover the ball in time to score in an open net, a chance James Ducker of the Telegraph thought he should have tucked away:
James Ducker @TelegraphDucker
Done everything but score tonight Rashford. United’s best player. Needed to stick that one in though
4/20/2017, 8:31:40 PM
Ibrahimovic came close to nudging the hosts back ahead just seconds later as the game took on a more end-to-end feel, and referee Alberto Mallenco waved away United penalty calls after the Swede went down in the box soon after.
Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker could only marvel at United’s profligacy as Pogba, Rashford and Ibrahimovic failed to fire in a string of late chances before full-time was called, with extra time required to separate the two:
Gary Lineker @GaryLineker
Manchester United doing everything in their power to draw another home game.
4/20/2017, 8:45:48 PM
A disappointing performance was compounded when Ibrahimovic appeared to hyper-extend his right knee following an awkward fall on the stroke of full-time and was taken off, with Anthony Martial his replacement.
Both teams had their chances at goal in the added 30 minutes, and after a goalless first period, Rashford finally grabbed the crucial strike that would ultimately send United through in the 107th minute.
The ball was lumped up to a towering Fellaini in the box, and his headed ball down was controlled by Rashford, who turned smartly in the box before prodding in with his left to end a European scoring hiatus:
BT Sport Football @btsportfootball
Cometh the hour, cometh the man!
Rashford puts Man Utd ahead in extra-time! 🙌 https://t.co/RaxGcvZi0D
4/20/2017, 9:22:10 PM
Some magic on the edge of the box from Martial and Mkhitaryan might have resulted in a third for United in the dying embers of the game, but the Frenchman was found to be offside as Anderlecht breathed a sigh of relief.
The home fans were doing the very same just seconds later as Romero was forced to tip a late attempt from the visitors over his bar, and the Red Devils were finally allowed to call themselves semi-finalists as full-time was called.
United will encounter heady competition in the semi-finals, and Mourinho knows his team will require major improvements—particularly at Old Trafford—before they can count this trophy as their own.
The Europa League semi-final draw will take place at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, on Friday at 12 p.m. BST/7 a.m. ET.