Manchester United 3-0 Millwall
The FA Cup Final
Saturday 22 May 2003
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
The FA Cup is on its way back to Old Trafford after a five-year absence, as goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy gave Manchester United a three-nil win over Millwall.
The result never looked in doubt when United took the lead in the closing moments of the first half and a commanding second half display put the game even further from the first division side’s reach.
It was a warm afternoon in Cardiff, but the underdogs seemed to freeze allowing a United team, well accustomed to the big occasion, time, space and, ultimately, goals so it was no shock when Ronaldo finally gave the Premiership big-boys the lead.
What was surprising, however, was that it took Sir Alex Ferguson’s side so long to find the back of the net and that, when it did arrive, it came from the head, and not the twinkling toes, of the Portuguese star.
But it was well worth waiting for. Ronaldo’s corner on the left was played short to Darren Fletcher. Ryan Giggs then took over and switched play, carrying the ball across the pitch to Roy Keane.
He quickly sprayed wide to Gary Neville on the other side with acres of space to exploit. The England full-back clipped in a dangerous ball to the edge of the six-yard box where Ronaldo arrived in front of Dennis Wise to power beyond Andy Marshall.
The goal was well-deserved, Ronaldo had been a thorn in Millwall’s right hand side for much of the first half and the spectacle that is The FA Cup Final provided a perfect stage for the young man to showcase his magic tricks.
After only four minutes he’d swung in a teasing ball to van Nistelrooy, and the Dutchman’s flying header drifted just wide.
Moments later it was even better. Having lost Robbie Ryan with a dummy on the bye line, his cheeky cross just needed Paul Scholes to connect, but instead the midfielder’s air-shot let Millwall off the hook.
The United fans were delighted to see his silky step-overs, so too, it looked, was Millwall player-manager Dennis Wise. When Ronaldo spun on the halfway line to lose the three-time Cup winner, Wise pulled the number seven to the ground and gave him a friendly hug.
United were confident enjoying the Lions’ share of possession and it was obvious that they wanted to end the season on a high. Perhaps more was expected of Millwall, too, but the south London side never threatened, save Paul Ifil’s 37th minute blocked shot, and the 27 league places between the two sides was all too evident.
While United were cool, calm and collected on the ball, Millwall never found a rhythm and looked nervous. Wise, the man who’s been there and done it in The Cup, didn’t provide the inspiration that they so desperately needed for an upset and he knew it. It was only a matter of time, therefore, before his frustration landed him in the book. After minor altercations with Scholes and Keane, his late boot on Ryan Giggs early in the second-half had Jeff Winter reaching for his pocket.
After the turn-around, with United leading, a positive response was required from the Lions, but United remained in charge, playing possession football in Millwall territory.
Darren Fletcher’s mazy run from deep that ended on the six yard box should have had a better result, but it set the tone for what was to come.
The Scot was again involved in United’s next opportunity. Linking up with Keane on the edge of the area, the ball ended up at the feet of Scholes who drove powerfully toward the corner of Marshall’s goal, but his one-handed save kept it out.
Wise then cleared Mikael Silvestre’s towering header from under the bar before van Nistelrooy doubled the lead three minutes later.
Reminiscent of his run against Arsenal in 1999, Giggs weaved past three blue shirts before bearing down on Marshall’s goal. With his boots primed to shoot, a lazy challenge from David Livermore toppled the Welshman. Winter pointed toward the penalty spot and van Nistelrooy dispatched emphatically into the top left corner.
That goal resigned Millwall to defeat, and van Nistelrooy’s second, tucking away Giggs’ cross from what looked like an offside position with nine minutes left, merely added a more realistic slant on the score line and turned the game into a keep-ball training session for Sir Alex’s men.
Wise, who went off to a standing ovation with five minutes left, and the Millwall fans, can be proud of their team’s efforts this season, but overcoming Manchester United was just too much to ask for. For United on the other hand, it was another day at the office. But on this particular day they lifted their eleventh FA Cup.
Man Utd: Howard (Carroll 84), Gary Neville, Brown, Silvestre, O'Shea, Ronaldo (Solskjaer 84), Fletcher (Butt 84), Keane, Giggs, Scholes, van Nistelrooy.
Subs Not Used: Phil Neville, Djemba-Djemba.
Goals: Ronaldo 44, van Nistelrooy 65 (pen), 81
Millwall: Marshall, Ryan (Cogan 74), Ward, Lawrence, Elliott, Sweeney, Livermore, Wise (Weston 89), Ifill, Cahill, Harris (McCammon 75).
Subs Not Used: Gueret, Dunne.
Referee: Jeff Winter
Assistant Referees: Roger East and Tony Green
Fourth Official: Matt Messias