Europa League road to final: Ajax and Manchester United's paths to high-stakes clash at Stockholm
Ajax take on Manchester United in the Europa League final on Wednesday. Take a look at how both these European teams reached the final of the competition.
Ajax take on Manchester United in the Europa League final on Wednesday in search of their first European silverware since 1995. Peter Bosz's side finished second to Feyenoord in the Eredivisie and will look to end the season on a high by beating United in Stockholm.
Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho's side are desperate to win the Europa League title which will allow them secure a place in next season's Champions League, having only finished sixth in the Premier League. Interestingly, the Europa League is the only silverware United has never won and there the Red Devils will aim to go full throttle to claim it.
Before the much-awaited clash, let's look at how both these teams reached the final of the Europa League:
Ajax did not make the best of starts to their Europa League campaign but a comeback 2-1 win over Panathinaikos was just what Bosz' side needed. The game was rather ugly as the referee was forced to brandish three red cards.
The 21-year-old Kasper Dolberg announced himself to the competition with a crucial goal against Standard Liege and another one in a five-goal thriller against fellow semi-finalists Celta Vigo. Draws against Liege and Vigo in the reverse fixture added pressure but a 2-0 win over Panathinaikos secured the top spot in the group for Ajax.
Round of 32
Ajax faced Legia Warsaw in the round of 32 and progressed by a solitary goal over two legs. The Dutch side registered a goalless draw away from home in the first leg. In the second leg, Ajax edged past Warsaw with a narrow 1-0 win, courtesy Nick Viergever's early strike in the second half.
Round of 16
Ajax faced FC Copenhagen in the last-16 and were on the back foot as Andreas Cornelius' late winner secured a 2-1 win for Copenhagen at home. In the second leg in Amsterdam, two first-half goals saw Ajax turn the tie around with an impressive all-round performance. Bertrand Traore and Dolberg guided Ajax to the quarter-finals with a 3-2 aggregate score.
Ajax faced a much-fancied FC Schalke in the quarter-final which turned out to be one of the best end-to-end clashes of the season. Ajax were in the driver's seat after Davy Klaassen's brace earned them a comprehensive 2-0 win in the first leg. However, it was the second leg which went down the wire. Schalke's Leon Goretzka and Guido Burgstaller forced the match into extra time. The Dutch side were a man down after Joel Veltman's was sent off and saw themselves in trouble yet again as Daniel Caligiuri's header put Schalke 3-2 up on aggregate in the first period of extra time.
A brave comeback from Viergever nine minutes from time put Ajax ahead with the away goal advantage and then Younes helped seal a famous 4-3 aggregate victory.
Bosz' men faced an attack-minded side in Ligue 1's Lyon in the semi-finals. Ajax wasted no time to show what they have got as the talented youngsters showed great courage and tactically outnumbered to demolish Lyon 4-1.
In the second leg, Ajax suffered a 3-1 away defeat in a thrilling clash but stormed to reach the Europa League final 5-4 on aggregate.
Manchester United were drawn in Group A alongside Fenerbahce, Feyenoord and Zorya.
United faced defeat at the hands of Dutch champions Feyenoord away thanks to Tonny Vilhena's late winner. Jose Mourinho's side were desperate to get back to winning ways and they did against Zorya at Old Trafford. Fenerbahce gave United a scare with a 2-1 win which meant United's chances of qualification rested on the final clash against Zorya. But United went through the Round of 32 with a 2-0 win in their final game. They finished second in the group with 12 points.
Round of 32
United faced French team Saint-Ettienne in a game where the Pogba brothers made headlines for facing each other for the first time. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat-trick to give United a commanding 3-0 lead in the first-leg and Henrikh Mkhitaryan slotted one away from home to seal the last-16 spot.
Round of 16
Mourinho's men faced a tricky Russian side Rostov in the last-16 of the competition, where they eked out a narrow 2-1 aggregate win to enter the quarter-finals. United won the first leg in Russia but had to settle for a draw at Old Trafford.
United's clash against Anderlecht was a real test for Mourinho. After Mkhitaryan's opener in Belgium, Leander Dendoncker headed a late equaliser against the run of play.
The second leg at Old Trafford saw a nervy start from United as they created chances but failed to make the most of it. Mkhitaryan was again on target but his strike was soon cancelled out by a Sofiane Hanni goal. The game was forced into extra-time only to see Marcus Rashford score a dramatic winner after 107 minutes to seal semi-final berth.
United faced Spanish side Celta Vigo, who had defeated Real Madrid and Barcelona in the La Liga and looked eager to knock another big team off. Rashford was again on the score sheet with an impressive David Beckham-esque free-kick to have the away goal advantage.
In the return fixture at Old Trafford, Marouane Fellaini headed in a splendid cross from Rashford to strengthen United's position. Celta's Facundo Roncaglia levelled the scores five minutes from time to give United a scare in front of the home crowd.
During the dying stages of the game, Eric Bailly and Roncaglia were both sent off for major involvement in a mass brawl.
Ten-man United almost had a heart-attack when Claudio Beauvue's square pass set up former Manchester City player John Guidetti, who squandered a golden chance to turn Manchester blue on the night and send his side to the maiden final.
With inputs from Reuters
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