No justice as Wayne's own story ends in tears

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The Independent Online

Question to Coleen McLoughlin, new agony aunt of Closer magazine: "I'm a 19-year-old who's just played brilliantly, if I say so meself, in a kickaround with me mates. Yet, somehow we lost our match. Some of the lads are in tears. Is there no justice in the world? And how do we get over these disappointments?" - W Rooney, Cheshire.

Question to Coleen McLoughlin, new agony aunt of Closer magazine: "I'm a 19-year-old who's just played brilliantly, if I say so meself, in a kickaround with me mates. Yet, somehow we lost our match. Some of the lads are in tears. Is there no justice in the world? And how do we get over these disappointments?" - W Rooney, Cheshire.

In truth, the England striker's newly empowered better half probably has as much idea as the rest of us as we attempt to arrive at some explanation for this crime on a Nick Leeson scale.

When Rooney is named man of the match, which takes some achieving when you're on the losing side, and any number of his team-mates, but notably Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand and Roy Keane, could have been lining up for second place, there is something seriously amiss. Could it be a judgement from the heavens on Malcolm Glazer? No doubt in the particularly embittered minds of those who oppose his takeover, that seed of thought may already be propagated.

What the outcome, achieved by dint of Jens Lehmann's denial of Paul Scholes in the penalty shoot-out, should not do is diminish the impact of United's Merlin minor. Those of us of an age to recall it refer to the 1979 Wembley confrontation between these clubs as the "Five-minute final", with the majority of the crucial action, culminating in Alan Sunderland's winner for the Gunners compressed into those final electrifying seconds. Yesterday, as we bade our farewell to this splendid venue, which for five years has been a little piece of England on this still sacred day in May, we departed reflecting on the Rooney Final.

The teenager, whose impudent features have decorated the news pages of our tabloid brethren rather too frequently this past year than may have been desirable for himself, his family, and his club, demonstrated emphatically how he revels performing on such a stage as this.

For 120 minutes, even those of the United faithful were roused out of their funereal state to behold one of their club's pieces of financial dealing, the £30m investment in Rooney, that has provoked only healthy debate over his most advantageous position. Here, to accommodate Darren Fletcher, who evidently is regarded by his manager as a long-awaited Fergie fledgling maturing from the nest after some relatively barren years, he was notionally employed in Ryan Giggs' left-sided berth. Not that his actual deployment appeared to trouble Rooney, the artist to whom the whole pitch is a giant canvas for his creative genius.

The fatal flaw in United's otherwise scintillating display proved to be the failure to confirm their territorial advantage. Rooney was no exception in that, though you could only empathise when he deceived the otherwise impressive goalkeeper Jens Lehmann with an audacious near-post drive which rebounded off the woodwork on an afternoon when United should have ensured that their ribbons were attached to the old trophy well before the conclusion of normal time.

What's more, there was no overt evidence of the dark side, either. He may have not been in total accord with some of the awards of the referee, Rob Styles, but he confined his observations to muttering under his breath. Much more of this and, who knows, he may be invited back to present schoolboy football awards.

Not that before the interval there had been much to aggravate either side. Good heavens, there may even have been a case for a ticking-off for over-gentlemanly behaviour by those who enjoy their meat rare, though the players redressed that perception in extra time with some dubious challenges, and in the final seconds, the dismissal of Jose Antonio Reyes. Given that it removed his responsibility of possibly taking one of the spot-kicks, he was probably mightily grateful. In the event, Arsenal struck theirs with aplomb, offering Roy Carroll no semblance of a chance. Lehmann, the first German goalkeeper to appear in an FA Cup final since Bert Trautmann, who broke his neck in the process of helping to maintain Manchester City's 3-1 advantage over Birmingham in the 1956 showpiece, predicted Scholes' intentions and made the save.

At the conclusion, there was the briefest of handshakes between Ferguson and Wenger. More of a brush of hands, really. The former, suppressing every conceivable emotion but presumably seething with inner rage at the injustice of it all, stood and stared into the middle distance and you wondered what the far distance holds for the manager who once again this season has had to contemplate failure.

You wondered what Ryan Giggs and Sol Campbell would have made of it all from the bench. On another day both would have been automatic selections, but the quietly effective Fletcher had forced out the former - although the Welsh international did appear as a substitute - and Philippe Senderos had reduced the England centre-back to a watching brief.

As United began to exert themselves in the final 15 minutes of the first period, with Rooney deciding that the Arsenal rearguard really were enjoying a rather too comfortable an afternoon, Senderos demonstrated what an astute piece of judgement that had been by his manager. For a 20-year-old, his composure under pressure is remarkable. Once when Rooney was making one of his regular forays down the left, the Swiss centre-back awaited his chance before timing his tackle with the precision of a surgeon, which, given his educational upbringing, he may well have become if football had not seduced him.

After the interval, the sun had emerged from the leaden skies and Wenger had removed his tie, though any discomfort would have been primarily caused by his team's uninspired performance. The second half, if anything, was worse. Somehow, with the benefit of Lehmann's acrobatics and substitute Ljungberg's miraculous goal-line clearance, Arsenal survived. Ultimately, Wenger's men savoured what could only be described as an Escape to Victory. Sounds like a great title for a film.

P.S: Reply from Coleen: "Sorry to hear about your disappointment, W R of Cheshire. Ever considered some retail therapy?"

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