Lions thrown to Cristiano

FA Cup final: Van Nistelrooy strikes twice to spoil Millwall's big day then admits his man of the match award should have gone to Ronaldo
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The Independent Football

The quick feet and even quicker brain of a Portuguese teenager yesterday confirmed that there is more than one Ronaldo on the world stage. Cristiano Ronaldo, 19, showed he had the temperament - after a buffeting from the opposition - and the skill as he excelled in helping Manchester United win the FA Cup for the 11th time.

His performance illuminated an otherwise routine match which resulted in the widest margin of victory, 3-0, for a decade. United beat First Division Millwall and avoided what would have been the biggest upset in the 123-year history of the competition. That never looked like happening with Millwall, in their first final, depleted and over-run at times and even failing to force a save.

The man of the match award went to United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy - who struck twice, including the first penalty to be awarded in the final for 10 years, after Ronaldo opened the scoring - but the Dutchman sheepishly accepted the award, saying it should have gone to his young team-mate. "He has a terrific physique and balance. Two good feet, great technique and is also a fantastic personality and strength of mind," said Sir Alex Ferguson who became the first manager to win the trophy five times. Ronaldo's team-mates were equally effusive with Gary Neville claiming the right-winger was already "world-class". "We weren't outstanding but we produced some good moments," Neville said. Most of those came from Ronaldo who produced audacious moments of skill, capped by a headed goal on the stroke of half-time.

"If we had gone in a 0-0 at half-time it could have been different," reasoned Millwall's player-manager Dennis Wise who, aged 37, was seeking to become the first player to win the trophy with three different clubs. It was never to be. Wise was barely fit, struggling with a calf injury while suspensions and injuries had depleted his team. Millwall did create one piece of history. Wise was withdrawn near the end and replaced by Curtis Weston who, at 17 years and 119 days, became the youngest player to appear in the final.

The day belonged to another teenager although there was also a touching tribute by the United players to another young striker as they collected their winners' medals. They all wore shirts with the name "Davis" on the back in memory of Jimmy Davis who was killed in a car accident on the first day of the season. "That was something all the lads wanted to do," said United's captain Roy Keane who, in his sixth final, collected the trophy for a fourth time.

Keane, of course, had famously derided the importance of the FA Cup, dismissing it as just a day out. United have not appeared in a final since 1999 when they won the Treble. But after another otherwise barren and frustrating season Keane said: "The last one is always the nicest. But all credit to Millwall. They had nothing to lose." Keane also praised Ronaldo and midfielder Darren Fletcher saying they had performed at the highest level. For Ferguson it is his 18th trophy in his 18 years and one that sets down a marker for next season, particularly with the emergence of his young players.

Millwall were the first finalists from outside the top division since the Premiership started and only the third for 24 years and assistant manager Ray Wilkins said: "We are not too pleased with the scoreline but the better team won even if they had a bit of luck." Still, Millwall will today celebrate their own fortune with an open-top bus parade down south London's Old Kent Road. They are £1m richer in prize money alone plus, of course, they have qualified for next season's Uefa Cup.