English soccer giants Manchester United ended up salvaging their season in emphatic style on Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brilliant opening-half goal and Ruud van Nistelrooy netted a pair in the second half to pace the Premiership team to a 3-0 win over first-division side Millwall in the FA Cup before before 71,350 fans at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
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The win secured Manchester United its 11th FA Cup title (the most by any team), and fifth for manager Sir Alex Ferguson. United last won the FA cup in 1999 when they defeated Newcastle United 2-0.
The victory also allowed United to salvage a little bit of pride after the club finished in third place this past season, failing to retain the Premiership title. The club was also eliminated from the Champions League, the top European club tournament, by Portuguese champions FC Porto in the knockout stage. It marked the first time United failed to reach the quarter-finals in eight years.
"Winning the final and scoring two is fantastic," said Van Nistelrooy. "I missed the last penalty I took, but I was convinced I wouldn't miss this one."
"For me, it is awesome to win a Cup and get a medal in my first year," said United goalkeeper Tim Howard, the first American to play in the final. "It is a good feeling, better than advertised."
Milwall were looking to become the first non-top division team to win the FA cup since West Ham United upset Arsenal in 1980.
Manchester was in total control of the game from the opening whistle, as Millwall was content to sit back, defend and try to hit back on the counterattack.
As the half progressed, United poured on the pressure and nearly scored when captain Roy Keane hit a dipping volley from just outside the penalty area only to have Millwall goalkeeper Andy Marshall make a terrific save by tipping the ball over the crossbar.
The deadlock was broken in the 44th minute when the 19-year-old Ronaldo, the first Portuguese player to play in the 132-year history of the FA Cup final, scored on a powerful header after teammate Gary Neville ghosted into the penalty box unchallenged and lofted a sublime cross from the right-flank.
United put the game out of reach early in the second half thanks van Nistelrooy.
Ryan Giggs was brought down by midfielder David Livermore in the 64th minute after making a probing, mazy run through the Millwall defence into the penalty area. Van Nistelrooy converted on the ensuing penalty shot, roofing the ball just under the crossbar.
In the 81st minute, Giggs made another penetrating run into the box and slipped a lovely pass to Nistelrooy who scored from four yards out.
History was made in the 88th minute when Curtis Weston came on in place of player/manager Dennis Wise, becoming the youngest player to appear in a FA Cup final at 17 years and 119 days.
"My players have done very well, but had we not gone in 1-0 down at halftime it might have been different," said Wise. "That goal killed us off. We made a mistake and we got punished."
with files from CP Online