Manchester United needed extra-time to edge past brave FC Copenhagen 1-0 to reach the semi-finals of the Europa League.
After 90 minutes in Cologne, where the two teams could not be separated in hot and humid conditions, Anthony Martial won United’s 21st penalty across all competitions this season and Bruno Fernandes fired it home.It broke a brave resistance from the Danish champions, who had defended brilliantly but did ride their luck slightly as Mason Greenwood and Fernandes both had struck the post in normal time and Greenwood had a goal ruled out by VAR in the first half for offside. Copenhagen also had their goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson to thank as he made 13 saves, the joint-most by a goalkeeper in a single Europa League game since the competition’s rebranding in 2009-10.
United will face the winners of Tuesday’s Europa League quarter-final between Wolves and Sevilla for a place in the Europa League final on August 21.
How Fernandes hit the right spot…
As the temperature hit 32 degrees ahead of kick-off, saving energy was a key component and United were rather slow out of the blocks as a consequence.
Copenhagen played a brave game in the early stages, pressing United where possible and Fred got caught in possession but was let off the hook as Mohamed Daramy and Jens Stage saw shots blocked following his sloppy play.
United looked to have a chance to take the lead against the run of play when Martial went down under pressure from Victor Nelsson, moments before Fernandes hit the crossbar, but after a delay the VAR ruled out the penalty for offside.
VAR was to cause further frustration for United when Marcus Rashford sent through Greenwood in behind and he thumped a classy finish into the far corner. However, the replays showed the assistant referee had missed a clear offside and VAR overturned the on-field call.
The game settled into a more predictable pattern after the break with United making the Copenhagen defence work hard to preserve their clean sheet. Rashford had the ball in the net on 57 minutes after Greenwood’s strike had rocketed back off the post, but, the striker was correctly flagged offside.
Fernandes became the latest to hit the goal frame when trying his luck from 25 yards, with the Danish side remaining a threat as long as the match was scoreless.
Former Everton full-back Bryan Oviedo was thwarted by a brilliant block from Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who made up for his wasteful performance in the final third with a quality piece of defending.
Johnsson started to come to the party as the game wore on, making a superb one-handed save which stopped Martial bending home from 25 yards.
Extra-time was needed and the extra quality in the United ranks came to the fore.Martial wriggled through to get away another shot saved by Johnsson and had just got back to his feet when Andreas Bjelland bundled into the back of him when collecting a Juan Mata pass.
Fernandes did the rest from the penalty spot, deciding against using his delayed spot-kick technique in preference of just simply firing one into the top corner.
It was one-way traffic now as United hunted a second goal but Johnsson was impressing in the Copenhagen goal and he superbly denied Fernandes, before halting the impressive Mata with his feet and seeing Victor Lindelof hit a post. Eventually a second goal was not required as Copenhagen succumbed to their exertions in the draining heat and rarely laid a glove on United in the closing stages.
Man of the match: Anthony Martial
You would be forgiven for thinking the Frenchman was only introduced to the game at the start of the extra-time as for the majority of the 90 minutes he was on the edge of the game. However, as legs all around him ran out steam, he stepped on the gas with a spell of scintillating direct dribbling that tore apart those tasked with marking him. It was his run that opened up the Copenhagen defence seconds before he won the penalty that allowed Fernandes to score from the penalty spot.
Special mention also has to go to Johnsson, who showed his credentials on the biggest stage with an unbelievable performance between the sticks.
What the manager said
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: “We had close to 30 shots, almost half of them on target. The goalkeeper had the game of his life, he was really good. I could say we need to be more clinical in knockout games but I’m delighted we’re through. It’s another semi-final for this team and the next challenge is to go one step further and win the last one.”
Manchester United have reached the Europa League semi-finals for the second time in the last four seasons – most recently managing to do so in 2016/17 when they went on to win the competition under Jose Mourinho.
Fernandes has scored 100 per cent of the 13 penalties he has taken in 2019-20 for both Sporting (6) and current club Manchester United (7).
Brandon Williams and Greenwood are the first pair of Manchester United teenagers to start a major European knockout tie since February 2016, when Marcus Rashford and Joe Riley did so against FC Midtjylland in a Europa League Last 32 tie