Football: Europa glory still in Red Devils' hands

Forward Marcus Rashford scoring in the 107th minute against Anderlecht to seal Manchester United's progress to the Europa League semi-finals for the first time.
Forward Marcus Rashford scoring in the 107th minute against Anderlecht to seal Manchester United's progress to the Europa League semi-finals for the first time.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

United scrape through, but Ibrahimovic and Rojo are uncertainties for Celta semi-final

LONDON • Jose Mourinho said Manchester United can still dream of winning the Europa League after reaching the semi-finals of the competition for the first time with a 3-2 aggregate victory over Anderlecht on Thursday.

But he implored Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to "be brave for the team", and try and accelerate their recovery from injury after Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were both taken off the Old Trafford pitch on stretchers.

Ibrahimovic, who has yet to agree a new one-year deal, injured his right knee, raising fears United's 28-goal top scorer might never play for the club again.

Of the veteran striker and Rojo, who also suffered a knee injury, and was seen limping heavily afterwards, Mourinho said: "I don't think they are easy injuries but I prefer to wait until all the tests are done and then speak... But the news is fairly negative, I think."

United defeated Anderlecht 2-1 on the night after extra time, the goals coming from Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the 10th minute and Marcus Rashford in the 107th.

Sofiane Hanni equalised for Anderlecht just after the half-hour mark, as United faltered following Rojo's injury.

The Argentinian, who has established himself at the heart of United's defence, was taken off after 23 minutes, thus becoming the third of United's four recognised central defenders to suffer a serious problem.

Smalling has a knee problem and Jones' a toe injury which had appeared to rule them out until mid-May.

Yet Mourinho, whose side visit Burnley in the Premier League tomorrow before tackling Manchester City next Thursday, said: "We have Daley Blind, and it is time for Jones and Smalling to be brave, to risk, because for the team you have to do everything."

Asked how soon the pair might come back, the United manager joked: "If it was me, tomorrow. But no, they cannot do miracles. But rather than mid-May, make it early May."

The Portuguese also praised Luke Shaw after the left-back refused to come off with cramps at the end of 90 minutes.

Mourinho has publicly and sharply criticised the England international on several occasions in recent weeks, but had kinder words this time.

"Luke did something different. He told me: 'I'm going to play 30 minutes with cramps, no problem - I'm ready for it,'" said the Portuguese.

"These (things) are what make me trust the players. I am tired, but I imagine the players are tired more than me. But we still have the dream of winning the Europa League."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

EUROPA LEAGUE SEMI-FINAL DRAW

Ajax Amsterdam (Ned) v Lyon (Fra)

Celta Vigo (Esp) v Manchester United (Eng)

1st leg: May 4

2nd leg: May 11

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2017, with the headline 'Europa glory still in Red Devils' hands'. Print Edition | Subscribe