With extra time looming the Swede nodded Ander Herrera’s cross past goalkeeper Fraser Forster this morning, Australian time, to score his 26th goal of the season in all competitions and secure Jose Mourinho’s first trophy since the Portuguese coach took charge.
United had taken a 2-0 lead with Ibrahimovic’s free kick and Jesse Lingard’s shot but Southampton striker Manolo Gabbiadini’s double either side of halftime breathed life into the showpiece match leaving the stage set for Ibra to snatch the winner.
“This is a team effort. This is what I came for – to win and I am winning. The more I win the more satisfied I get,” said the 35-year-old former Sweden international.
“You appreciate it more the older you get. Wherever I have gone I have won. I think this is trophy number 32 for me … I’m enjoying it in England.”
Mourinho, who also won the English Football League Cup three times with Chelsea, joins former United boss Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough, as the most successful managers in the competition.
After becoming the first manager to win a major trophy in his debut season at United, he praised Ibrahimovic.
“He won the game for us. He was outstanding,” said Mourinho. “He made the difference and he gave us the cup.”
Southampton, playing in their first Wembley cup final since 1979, were the sharper team in the opening stages and Gabbiadini was unlucky to have a goal disallowed for offside.
But United shook off their early lethargy and took the lead after 19 minutes with a typical piece of Ibrahimovic wizardry.
When United were awarded a free kick in a central position 25 metres out, the Swede clearly only had one thing in mind as he placed the ball down and curled a shot past Forster.
Dusan Tadic forced United’s David De Gea into a low save from his swerving effort as Southampton responded.
The south coast side were dealt another sucker punch in the 38th minute though when Marcos Rojo found Lingard in far too much space and the young striker clinically guided a shot past the wrong-footed Forster.
Claude Puel’s Saints side kept plugging away, however, and were rewarded for their first-half endeavour seconds before the interval when James Ward-Prowse drove the ball across goal and Gabbiadini stole in to glance the ball past De Gea.
Three minutes after the break Southampton were level and it was January signing Gabbiadini who again showed his poaching skills, holding off Chris Smalling to shoot low past De Gea.
With extra time looming, Ibrahimovic, who had drifted out of the game, burst back into life to win the trophy for United.
As the ball was played in from the right by Herrera, the Swede found himself unmarked and thumped a header past Forster to send United’s fans into raptures.
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