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United on verge of Europa League glory, but Ajax a huge obstacle to hurdle


Winning the Europa League means getting a ticket to the Champions League next season.

This is now the top priority of Manchester United after they scraped past Celta de Vigo 2-1 on aggregate following a tumultuous 1-1 draw in the second leg of their semifinal-tie at old Trafford.

Thus, the Red Devils are in their very-first final in the tournament, with only Ajax standing in their way in Stockholm to claim glory.

United clipped Celta de Vigo 1-0 in the initial leg at Estadio de Balaidos, thanks to Marcus Rashford’s stunning free kick.

On Friday at Old Trafford, it was Marouanne Fellaini’s turn to deliver.

The afro-haired midfielder scored on a header in the 17th minute off a far-post assist from Marcus Rashford and it looked like United would be coasting along. It was United’s 100th goal of the season.

But United, running out of pace in the last 20 minutes, faced anxious moments when Celta de Vigo answered with a goal in the 85th minute through a header from defender Facundo Roncaglia.

Then a melee erupted, with Roncaglia and United’s Eric Bailly both sent out as the teams played with 10 men each all the way to the final whistle.

Celta also missed a huge opportunity to bump off United via the away goal in the closing seconds of the game as striker John Guidetti mishit from close range for the final kick following a pass from Claudio Beauvue, to the relief of United, and of course Mourinho.

In France, Ajax struggled to oust Olympic Lyonnais on 5-4 aggregate, after the latter came up short in winning the second leg 3-1 at Park Olympic Lyonnais. Ajax won the first leg 4-1, but had to do a lot of scrambling to avert a massive Lyon comeback.

Jose Mourinho’s men should forget the Premier League campaign for now. It is his obsession to win the Europa League at all cost.

On May 24, we will find out if United can add the only major trophy missing from their collection. That is, if they prevail over Ajax at the Friends Arena.

Never mind the flak. The “Special One’’ can always parry them with ease.

As he said, he is “gambling’’ on prioritizing the Europa League just to progress to Europe’s most prestigious club competition.

They are currently fifth in the English top-tier, four points behind fourth-running Manchester City with three matches to go and still in the fight for a top-four finish.

Winning over Celta de Vigo somehow erased the stigma of United’s 2-0 loss recently to Arsenal that ended their 25-match unbeaten run in the Premier League.

That will also provide them with plenty of confidence against Ajax.

Mourinho, in his always-defiant stance, has reiterated that the Europa League remains United’s brightest chance to be in the Champions League.

If they fail, the fiery coach added they will have no regrets because for him, “it doesn’t matter what happens.’’