Manchester United FC will play FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final, a repeat of the 2009 showpiece which the Azulgrana won 2-0 in Rome, after completing a comfortable 6-1 aggregate victory against FC Schalke 04.
Thus United and Barcelona, who have each been crowned continental champions on three occasions, will return to the scene of their first European Champion Clubs' Cup triumph: Wembley. United won their first crown there in 1968, defeating SL Benfica 4-1, while Barcelona earned their maiden title at England's national stadium thanks to a 1-0 victory against UC Sampdoria 24 years later.
UEFA.com brings you reaction from those involved at Old Trafford (all times CET).
Wednesday 23.59, London
Video highlights of tonight's game are available here. The blog is now closed, though a UEFA Europa League version will return tomorrow around 09.00CET looking ahead to the semi-final second legs between SC Braga (1) and (2) SL Benfica and Villarreal CF (1) versus (5) FC Porto.
Wednesday 23.39, Manchester
Ralf Rangnick conceded that United were just "too good" for his Schalke team over legs. "We started well, the first 25 minutes we had more possession, but after a mis-placed pass we conceded the first goal," said the Schalke coach. "You can't afford this on such a [high] level and then the game took another direction. You have to say Manchester United were too good for us, we were hitting our limits."
Wednesday 23.12, Manchester
Manuel Neuer expressed his regret at the way Schalke performed over two legs against United but did look back with pride on the Royal Blues' European campaign. "You have to give a top performance in order to win against Manchester United," said the Schalke captain and goalkeeper. "We didn't manage that in the first leg and today it also didn't work out. We managed to get to the semi-final, we can be proud of that, but we have to quickly shrug off both games against Manchester United."
Wednesday 23.02, Manchester
Sir Alex Ferguson said his United players "did me proud" after the Red Devils reached the UEFA Champions League final for the third time in four seasons, adding: "It's fantastic for the club, there's no doubt about that, it's where we want to be. I've said it many times before that we should have done better in Europe over the years and I think we're getting closer to that. This team can win the cup. It's full of great desire and determination."
On Barcelona, Sir Alex said: "They're definitely the team of the moment. They play fantastic football and it's a pleasure to watch them. We're in the final, we'll prepare properly and we've got a big game on Sunday [against Chelsea FC] so let's look forward to that."
Wednesday 22.51, Manchester
Edwin van der Sar is hoping United will use the pain of losing the 2009 final to Barcelona to their advantage when the teams meet again in the showpiece on 28 May. "They play extremely good football and it's going to be difficult − they showed that in the 2009 final [in Rome]," said the United goalkeeper. "We have to make sure we have learnt our lessons from that, be better prepared and deal with them in a different way than we did over there."
Wednesday 20.26, Simon Hart at Old Trafford
Sir Alex Ferguson's team sheet makes interesting reading with nine changes. Fans might question a central defensive pairing of Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, although United did keep a clean sheet at Rangers FC on their first starting appearance together in the competition in November. For Schalke, it will be interesting to see how 17-year-old Julian Draxler fares on his first start in the UEFA Champions League. Not a bad place to make it.
Wednesday 20.02, London
The lineups for tonight's second leg are now available. They can be found in the UEFA.com MatchCentre, where you can follow all of the action from Old Trafford. The blog will not be updated during the game but be sure to return at full time for immediate post-match reaction.
Wednesday 19.21, Simon Hart at Old Trafford
The Old Trafford press room is now packed after the arrival of the German media. The Schalke squad will be here shortly having spent the day at their hotel at Worsley Park, just to the west of Manchester. They received a visit from Jermaine Jones, the Schalke player presently on loan not too far from here at Blackburn Rovers FC.
Wednesday 19.08, Nick Aitken at Old Trafford
The eyes of the world's media are on tonight's game, which will decide who meets Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final on 28 May at Wembley. Spain's Marca, for example, has focused on two of the competition's golden oldies: Ryan Giggs and Raúl González. Giggs is described as "having quality to spare, being a gentleman out on the pitch and a footballing legend", while the former Madrid striker "has goalscoring in his blood and limitless ambition".
France's L'Equipe, for its part, turns its attention to Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson's stated intention to name a changed side with one eye on Sunday's Premier League encounter with Chelsea FC. "Aside from his defence, Ferguson has customarily rotated his players this season, and he is expected to do the same tonight," said the website's Alexis Danjon.
Wednesday 19.06, Simon Hart at Old Trafford
There were Schalke fans singing "Wemb-er-ley" on my train to Manchester but their team will have to tear up the record books if they are going to still be singing at the end of the night. United have never lost a home tie in UEFA competition by two goals and, moreover, during Sir Alex Ferguson's 20-year reign, Old Trafford has witnessed only eight defeats of a size that would overturn the hosts' 2-0 first-leg lead inside 90 minutes.
Wednesday 18.34, Nick Aitken at Old Trafford
United's stadium staff are pulling out all the stops ahead of the game, with a 20-plus team currently completing work on elaborate mosaics spanning three of Old Trafford's stands. Part of the design are three enormous silver trophies, which represent United's triumphs to date in the European Champion Clubs' Cup/UEFA Champions League in 1967/68, 1998/99 and 2007/08.
Wednesday 18.27, London
If Schalke's task was not difficult enough tonight, then history is also against the Bundesliga team, because United have progressed in all 14 UEFA competition ties where they won the first game away from home.
Wednesday 17.34, London
Unlike Schalke, there are no United players within a yellow card of a suspension and therefore in danger of missing the final should the Red Devils progress. Schalke have five players on a booking. They are: Hans Sarpei, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, José Manuel Jurado, Raúl González and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Wednesday 15.55, Manchester
In tonight's United Review, the official matchday programme, Sir Alex Ferguson shares his memories of Schalke striker Raúl González, who has deflated United's UEFA Champions League aspirations in the past. "I remember describing Raúl as the best player in the world, after admiring two goals he scored against us for Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final of 2003 at the [Santiago] Bernabéu.
"Although he missed the return leg in Manchester through injury, I recall even more vividly our 4-3 win on the night. Although we lost on aggregate, it did not prevent our fans acknowledging Ronaldo's hat-trick with a standing ovation when he was substituted.
Wednesday 14.10, Nick Aitken at Old Trafford
The atmosphere is building nicely at Old Trafford, with many of the expected total of 3,983 visiting Schalke fans already milling around the stadium some seven hours before kick-off. As well as enjoying the spring sunshine, supporters of the Knappen have been taking photographs alongside the statue of legendary former United manager Sir Matt Busby, situated in front of the club shop, and picking up souvenir scarves.
Wednesday 13.25, Simon Hart en route to Old Trafford
"Don't blow it" is the headline in today's Daily Mail as the English newspaper picks up on Sir Alex Ferguson's words yesterday warning his players against taking anything for granted in tonight's second leg. "Ferguson fears danger of complacency," says the Independent, which also focuses on the return of United's fit-again midfielder Darren Fletcher, suggesting he can bring "much-needed steel" in the crunch games ahead.
Writing in his match programme notes, Sir Alex puts his team's 2-0 first-leg win over Schalke "right up there with the Juventus game of 1999" when they overturned a two-goal deficit to record a famous 3-2 semi-final victory. "Over the last two or three years we have developed a way of playing in Europe that is making us very difficult to beat," he says. "European football requires particular qualities of concentration and confidence and, without wishing to tempt fate, our control of possession in Gelsenkirchen was first class."
United's experienced manager, of all people, knows better than to tempt fate – "We must still keep our feet on the ground," he adds – though it will be interesting to see how much of a calculated risk he is prepared to take with his team selection tonight given Sunday's key Premier League encounter with Chelsea FC.
Wednesday 12.55, Nick Aitken at Old Trafford
It's another remarkably sunny day here in Manchester and the mood around Old Trafford is equally bright, with officials from both clubs clearly looking forward to tonight's second leg. Schalke are fully aware of the size of the task ahead, however, and are holding out hope for positive outcomes from the late fitness tests of influential defender Benedikt Höwedes and Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Set to take charge of tonight's encounter, which kicks off at 20.45, is Portuguese referee Pedro Proença, who also oversaw United's 1-1 group-stage draw with Valencia CF on 7 December 2010.
Wednesday 12.35, London
Despite Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to rotate his squad, The Times insists that United will show no complacency this evening. Under the headline, "Ferguson in no mood to give toiling Schalke an escape route", the broadsheet is full of praise for the way United have managed to maintain a two-pronged assault on both major European and domestic titles, while simultaneously incorporating a changing of the guard.
"At Old Trafford the process of renewal is constant," reads the lead article. "As well as [Edwin] Van der Sar's retirement, there are expectations that Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen, whose contracts expire in June, will be released. Gary Neville retired in February while Paul Scholes, at 36, has yet to give any indication that he will accept the club's offer of a one-year contract.
"Against this backdrop of change, however, United find themselves on the verge of another Champions League final, their third in four seasons. With a 2-0 first-leg lead over Schalke in their semi-final, United's place at Wembley on 28 May looks all but signed and sealed. For a team approaching a necessary state of transition that would be quite an achievement."
Wednesday 11.58, Cologne
Optimism does not appear to have swept the offices of the Cologne-based daily, EXPRESS, which highlights the herculean nature of Schalke's challenge tonight. "Never before have United gone out of the Champions League when they have been two up after the first leg, they have never lost at home by more than one goal in Europe's premier competition and, this season, they have not lost a single home match in all competitions. Old Trafford – dubbed the "Theatre of Dreams" – could easily become the theatre of nightmares for Schalke tonight.
Wednesday 11.46, Gelsenkirchen
Meanwhile, as revealed here in yesterday's rolling blog, Schalke's official club website reports that Benedikt Höwedes and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who last made a Bundesliga appearance on 26 February, are in the preliminary 22-man squad. "I feel a lot better," says a confident-sounding Höwedes. "I would say that I have passed the final fitness test. Nothing is certain yet, but of course I hope that it won't be that noticeable that I have been out for ten days. On day, the coach and I will get together and decide if it makes sense [for me to play]. I have dreamt of being on the pitch - that's the most important thing for me right now."
Wednesday 11.40, Essen
Essen-based Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung is already reporting that Höwedes will return to the starting XI. "At the beginning of this season, his being sidelined would not really have stood out. That's because then-coach Felix Magath played him as a rather bad right-back and when he was played as centre-back, he was a long way away from the form he had displayed the season before. Now, though, his return is eagerly awaited."
Is it a game that Manchester United will not take seriously after losing 1-0 to Arsenal FC and with Chelsea coming up on Sunday? Especially after gaining a comfortable 2-0 advantage from the first leg? "It doesn't matter who they put on the pitch," says Höwedes. "They have such strong players."
Wednesday 11.36, Frankfurt
Playing on Diego Maradona's famous phrase, the German newspaper, Bild, has placed Schalke's fate in the "Wall of God" – referring in this case to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who excelled in the 2-0 first-leg defeat in Gelsenkirchen. "Neuer once more has to be the Wall of God for Schalke to have the slightest chance of performing a miracle," it reads. "The English are not taking Schalke seriously any more. Due to their holidays, the consulate in Düsseldorf messed up the visas for Schalke's five non-EU foreigners. On Friday, they preferred to celebrate William and Kate's marriage, on Monday they were off on holiday.
"Schalke still believe in their mini-chance, because Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson is arrogantly planning a squad rotation. He wants to rest his stars [Wayne] Rooney, [Javier] Hernández and [Ryan] Giggs for the title decider against Chelsea [FC] on Sunday. In his opinion, [Michael] Owen, [Dimitar] Berbatov and [Paul] Scholes will do against Schalke. And Raúl [González] is United's nightmare. Neuer: 'This is the semi-final of the Champions League, it is the biggest game in my career. We must not concede and we need to score a quick goal. Then anything is possible.'"
Wednesday 11.03, Madrid
In the Spanish press, Madrid-based sports daily AS paid tribute to a honourable attempt by the Merengues to claw their way back into the match but cited Barcelona's midfield as the essential difference between the two sides. "Barcelona got through thanks to their midfield play, and the contribution of Andrés Iniesta, who made the breakthrough when setting up Pedro Rodríguez's goal." It goes on to mention that Barça reached their seventh European Champion Clubs 'Cup final with no players suspended.
El País, meanwhile, added that the Azulgrana showed cunning and intelligence to win their place at Wembley: "This stadium is the sanctuary where Barcelona began its legend as the winning team at the expense of Madrid. Last night Europe's most successful club was more recognisable than in previous matches in the series. Real Madrid faltered with dignity at Camp Nou."
Wednesday 10.00, London
Do not forget to get involved in our Predictor competition this week, while tickets will be on offer in our Player Rater feature during the games. Prizes are also available to win in Play of the Day later in the week. Visit the Ford Classics page and enter the Champions Quiz for the chance to go to this season's final.
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