Manchester United will have the chance to add the Europa League to their bulging trophy cabinet after edging through a frantic, tempestuous semi-final against Celta Vigo.
After 14 matches that have taken Jose Mourinho’s men to Holland, Turkey, Ukraine, France, Russia, Belgium and Spain, the long, arduous continental campaign has brought a shot at glory.
Reaching the May 24 finale was far from straightforward, though, as Marouane Fellaini’s first-half header was cancelled out by Facundo Roncaglia five minutes from the end of the semi-final second leg.
The drama did not end there as Celta’s goalscorer and Eric Bailly were sent off as tempers frayed, with United holding out for a 1-1 draw that saw them reach the Stockholm finale 2-1 on aggregate.
The relief was as clear as the joy at the final whistle as United moved within a victory of the only major trophy to have eluded them in their success-laden history.
Europa League glory also offers Champions League qualification – United’s best chance of returning to Europe’s top table given their Premier League struggles – but Ajax are likely to prove as stern a test as Celta.
Few could have foreseen such a nervy ending when Fellaini headed home Marcus Rashford’s fine cross, but Celta’s efforts were rewarded by a late goal from Roncaglia – a player sent off along with Bailly moments later.
Former Manchester City striker John Guidetti wasted a gilt-edged chance to turn the tie around entirely with the last kick of the game, but United now have the chance to add the Europa League to this season’s Community Shield and EFL Cup triumphs.
Celta’s performance was a far cry from their meek display on home soil, attacking with vim and vigour from the outset as they looked to cancel out United’s 1-0 first-leg advantage.
Liverpool flop Iago Aspas’ fourth-minute warning shot from an acute angle forced Sergio Romero into action and Gustavo Cabral missed the target from a corner as the threat continued.
Quick play and intelligent movement was leading anxiety levels to creep up around Old Trafford, with groans audible during a nervy start – tension punctured in the 17th minute.
Rashford last week surprised onlookers with his superb free-kick and this time it was the quality of his cross that impressed, with his fine, curling ball headed home by the ever-reliable Fellaini.
It was a sucker punch that United quickly looked to add to, yet wayward attempts allowed the visitors to regroup and soon Romero had to tip over a hopeful Pablo Hernandez strike.
Daley Blind, struggling to impose himself, was given a booking for a lunge as play became stretched, with Paul Pogba missing the target before Pione Sisto twice tried his luck at the other end.
Sisto, perhaps aware his selfishness was irking coach Eduardo Berizzo, crossed when Celta next threatened, but Daniel Wass was unable to direct he fizzing ball home.
Hugo Mallo’s driven cross called Romero into action 24 seconds into the second half as Celta continued to threaten an away goal, but Henrikh Mkhitaryan – so key in this Europa League run – would have netted United’s second was it not for Alvarez’s reactions.
Guidetti wasted a shot before Alvarez smothered a clipped Rashford attempt and near post Fellaini strike, with Jozabed close to reducing the gap with a thumping strike just wide.
Mourinho’s Reds were having to dig deep defensively as the visitors continued to probe, with Guidetti grabbing his head in disbelief after nodding Mallo’s cross off target.
Still Celta pushed forwards and they drew level in the 85th minute as Roncaglia’s header sent the visiting sky blue hordes wild.
It led tension to grow and it soon blew up as both teams clashed, with Bailly sent off for raising his hand to Guidetti and Roncaglia for retaliating.
The arguments continued down the touchline before attentions return to the field, where Ander Herrera saw a goal ruled out.
Guidetti had a wonderful chance to dump Untied out in stoppage time but the Swede somehow missed, the goal gaping as the ball was cut back to him by Claudio Beauvue, who should have scored himself.