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United's Europa victory dedicated to grieving Manchester

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Manchester United gave its grieving home city a moment to cheer by winning the Europa League this morning, Australian time, beating Ajax 2-0 in the final thanks to goals by Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

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Pogba dedicated the triumph in Stockholm to the victims of the Manchester terror attack, after a suicide bomber this week killed 22 people and wounded more than 50 at Manchester Arena after an Ariana Grande concert.

Two days later one of the English city’s two Premier League clubs lifted the Europa League trophy for the first time, and the French midfielder paid tribute to those who had lost their lives.

Speaking to BT Sport, he said: “We know that things like this are very sad, all over the world: in Manchester, in London and in Paris, too. We had to focus because it was a very important game and we won for them and for the country.

“We played for England, we played for Manchester, and we played for the people who died.”

Referring to the cup win, which earns United a place in the Champions League next season, Pogba, who opened the scoring before Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, added: “We knew we were going to play in the Europa League and the goal was to win the Europa League.”

“We did it, so we’re very proud. Some say we had a bad season but the prize is here. We worked hard and we’ll enjoy it now.”

Mkhitaryan was happy to fulfil his colleagues’ prophecies after helping the Red Devils reach the Stockholm showpiece with five European goals this term.

The Armenian said: “Thank you to my teammates because without them I couldn’t score so many goals. I’m happy that I scored here today in the final because everyone was saying, ‘You’re going to score in the final’ and after the last game against Celta Vigo I was dreaming about scoring in the final and I did.

“We were fighting in two races: the Premier League and the Europa League. In the Premier League we couldn’t hit the target to go to the Champions League but tonight we gave all our effort and now we’re playing in the Champions League.”

Juan Mata added: “It’s massive for us. We came here with one option – to win the trophy that the club had never won and we did it so we are happy.

“It was a great final and my first European final with United, hopefully the first of many.

“Especially after what happened (in Manchester) we wanted to win this and we’ll bring the trophy back.

“It was a very difficult week for a lot of us and for the city of Manchester and we tried to win for all the people who have suffered. This trophy is for them.”

Pogba pointed to the sky as he was mobbed by teammates after his 18th-minute opening goal, with the game also played 12 days after the death of his father, Fassou Antoine.

Mkhitaryan scored the second goal in the 48th minute, hooking the ball in from close range from a corner – the win earning United the bonus prize of a place in next season’s Champions League.

It also meant coach Jose Mourinho finished his first season at England’s biggest club with two trophies after United also won the English League Cup in February.

The planned pre-match one minute’s silence in honour of the victims rapidly turned into 60 seconds of applause, during which United’s fans chanted “Manchester, Manchester.” Both teams wore black armbands for the match in another mark of respect and both sets of fans came together, mingling happily outside the stadium and in the city centre before the match.

The game was billed as a clash between the pragmatism of Mourinho’s United against the swagger and youthful exuberance of an Ajax side featuring six players aged 21 or under and in the club’s first European final in 21 years.

It came as no surprise that United’s players were able to impose themselves over such inexperienced opponents, with Pogba – the world’s most expensive player – standing out.

His crucial first goal had a huge element of fortune to it, though. Marouane Fellaini – a regular outlet because of his height and physical presence – laid the ball off to Pogba at the edge of the area, and the France star allowed it to run across him before sending in a low left-footed shot that wouldn’t have troubled goalkeeper Andre Onana.

The ball struck Davinson Sanchez’s outstretched leg and looped up, spinning into the net past the wrong-footed Onana.

Mkhitaryan’s goal was much prettier, although it came from a direct route. A right-wing corner was headed down by Chris Smalling, and Mkhitaryan reacted quickest by hooking the ball high into the net from close range.

United had little trouble keeping Ajax at bay in the closing stages, as the English team won their sixth European trophy and the only major piece of silverware missing from their collection.

-AAP, PA

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