Late Fernandes show lifts Man Utd past dogged Danes

Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes scores from the spot to put United ahead in Cologne. (AP pic)

COLOGNE: Bruno Fernandes scored a penalty in extra time as Manchester United scraped past FC Copenhagen 1-0 on Monday in the quarterfinals of the Europa League, reshaped into an eight-team straight knockout tournament in Germany due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Portugal international notched his competition-best seventh goal of the season as United set up a semifinal clash against Sevilla or Wolves, joining Inter Milan in the last four following the Italian side’s 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in Dusseldorf.

All games from the quarterfinals onwards in this season’s Europa League are being played behind closed doors as one-off ties across four venues – Cologne, Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Gelsenkirchen – in a unique format following a five-month interruption.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recalled Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial after rotating his side for last week’s second leg of their last 16 tie against Austrian club LASK Linz.

However, the 2017 competition winners struggled to develop any early rhythm and 18-year-old Copenhagen forward Mohamed Daramy was twice involved as the Danish underdogs threatened a creaking United backline.

Eric Bailly intervened just as a slightly hesitant Daramy attempted to stab home a bouncing cross, and the Ivorian defender was then played into trouble by Fred with Jens Stage’s subsequent effort blocked.

Rashford finally tested KarlJohan Johnsson just before the interval with a long-range shot – the first of a multitude of saves for Copenhagen’s outstanding Swedish goalkeeper.

Greenwood looked to have put United ahead as he drilled in via the far post moments later only for the teenager to be ruled offside following a VAR review.

He again went close early in the second half when he slammed against the upright, with Fernandes promptly smacking the opposite post with a dipping 20-yard drive.

The Portugal international, who scored five times in the group stage with Sporting, stung the palms of Johnsson with another hit from distance – shortly after Aaron Wan-Bissaka made a desperation block to thwart Bryan Oviedo after a mesmerising dribble from Rasmus Falk.

Johnsson outstanding in goal

Appearing in their first European quarterfinal, and the first Danish club to reach this stage since 1997, Copenhagen continued to frustrate United as they sought a repeat of their 1-0 win when the clubs last met in the Champions League group stage in 2006.

Martial nearly won the game in normal time but again a sprawling Johnsson tipped away his curling attempt that appeared destined for the top corner.

The France striker was once more repelled by Johnsson at the start of extra time, but Martial won a penalty as United kept the attack alive and the striker was upended by Andreas Bjelland.

Fernandes blasted home from the spot on 95 minutes but Solskjaer’s team were left to sweat until the end as Johnsson pulled off sensational stops from the Portuguese and substitute Juan Mata, with Victor Lindelof the third United player to strike the post.

United ultimately ensured their 2019-20 campaign will extend into a second year, having started the season 365 days ago with a 4-0 Premier League win over Chelsea.

Awaiting them on Sunday will be Sevilla – who have won the Europa League and its precursor, the Uefa Cup, a record five times – or domestic rivals Wolves.

Those clubs meet in Duisburg on Tuesday while Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk, winners of the 2009 edition, play Swiss outfit Basel in the other quarterfinal in Gelsenkirchen.