Millwall's dream ticket to Europe

Millwall 1 Sunderland 0
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It is time for Europe to become acquainted with a new song: "Nessun ci ama, non ci importa" at San Siro, "Niemand liebt uns, es macht nichts" on the Rhine and something utterly unpronounceable if they are sent to a distant corner of Ukraine. Most of Western Europe would prefer the third option.

Nobody ever much liked Dennis Wise and, frankly, after taking Millwall to their first FA Cup final and with it their first taste of European football, he does not much care. Some people may swallow hard before saying it but Wise - "He's just five foot four, he'll break your f****** jaw" in the words of the Millwall fans in Manchester yesterday - is one of the towering figures in the recent history of the FA Cup.

By the evening of 22 May he might have won three FA Cups with three different clubs, and those who scoff at the thought of Millwall overcoming Manchester United in Cardiff should remember that Wimbledon, another cordially disliked team from South London, were similarly given no chance of overcoming Liverpool in 1988, the year Wise picked up the first of his trophies.

Wise, who at the press conference yesterday had answered questions with his four-year-old son, Henry, on his stitched-up knee, thought this would be an even more awkward assignment. "Of course it would be, but we won't lie down and die," he said. "But it feels different to any of the other finals [this is his fifth] because I'm a player-manager." He rather sheepishly admitted that, no, he did not have a coaching badge to his name.

Millwall appear on the surface similar to the old Wimbledon of Plough Lane. There is a similarly eccentric chairman, Theo Paphitis, who this morning may be regretting his promise to run naked through the streets of Bermondsey should his team make the FA Cup final. Judging from the way Neil Harris was pelted with wet towels during a television interview, a similarly gloriously anarchic dressing-room atmosphere prevails.

Wise conceded that the draw had been kind. Millwall have become only the fifth club, and the first for 51 years, to have reached an FA Cup final without playing a top-flight team; they have not slain giants nor, apart from Sunderland, been confronted by the moderately tall. Nevertheless, Sunderland, hitherto the last club from outside the top flight to reach an FA Cup final, could boast that the majority of their starting line-up were full internationals. Yet this season Millwall have beaten them in three encounters.

Before kick-off, the Sunderland manager, Mick McCarthy, remarked he thought so little of FA Cup semi-finals that he could not recall last season's two defeated sides. He will remember this year's losers for a very long time and yesterday, the veneer stripped away, he confessed his deep hurt.

There were three periods in which Sunderland might have broken through. In the opening quarter of an hour, when they played some of their most incisive football, John Oster sent a free-kick crashing down from the underside of the crossbar. In the 10 minutes after the interval, Kevin Kyle caused something approaching havoc among the Millwall back four for perhaps the only time in the contest.

The moment when McCarthy withdrew the tall Scotsman was cited as a pivotal moment by Niall Quinn, commentating on the tie. The former Sunderland striker, who knew how to unsettle centre-halves, said he could not defend the decision. "When Kyle came off the pitch the defenders would have gone 'Woah, thank God he's gone'."

George McCartney and Matt Piper went close but, in truth, Millwall might have gone further ahead when Tim Cahill pulled over a perfect cross for Danny Dichio, whose header was wonderfully turned away by Mart Poom.

The goal that sent Millwall into the realms of fantasy may have begun with an error - a short pass from McCartney to Phil Babb - but it was wonderfully converted. Paul Ifill seized on it and, after swerving past two challenges, shot against Poom's chest. Cahill steered an awkward rebound into the goal beneath the Stretford End which, as it had been when Sheffield United came to play Arsenal in this fixture last year, was a tearful sea of red and white.

Before the hour was up, Wise had been forced to use all his substitutes, he had lost Ifill, his most effective performer, and seen Kevin Muscat limp off to be replaced by two teenagers. It was predictable that this would be an intensely physical contest, it was less predictable that Millwall would suffer more from it.

Jason McAteer, who had recalled previous clashes with Wise that had left him with weals on his chest, was fortunate not to have been dismissed for falling on Muscat with his knees. Muscat, who is not noted for his shyness, indicated to McAteer precisely what retribution would be awaiting him in the tunnel at half-time. A brutal tackle from McCartney, who learned his football on the streets of East Belfast, ensured Muscat's participation ended well before the interval.

McAteer did not escape. Four minutes before the end he brought down Harris and did not even wait for Paul Durkin to flourish the second yellow card. Wise shook him by the hand as he walked off. Once again, the final word was his.

Millwall 1 Sunderland 0
Cahill 26

Half-time: 1-0 Att: 56,112

Goal: Cahill (26) 1-0.

Millwall (4-4-2): Marshall; Muscat (Roberts, 42), Lawrence, Ward, Ryan (Elliott, 56); Ifill (Sweeney, 30), Wise, Livermore, Cahill; Harris, Dichio. Substitutes not used: Gueret (gk), Chadwick.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Poom; Wright (Thornton, 90), Breen, Babb (Piper, 78), McCartney; Oster, McAteer, Thirlwell, Arca; Smith, Kyle (Stewart, 61). Substitutes not used: Myhre (gk), Williams.

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).

Booked: Millwall: Ifill, Wise. Sunderland: McCartney, Thirlwell, McAteer. Sent off: Sunderland: McAteer.

Man of the match: Cahill.

Attendance: 56,112.

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