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Men’s football Man Utd win FA Cup semi-final on pens after stunning Coventry comeback

Manchester United 3-3 Coventry City
(4-2 on penalties)
by Layth Yousif
at Wembley Stadium 

THE weekend had moved into Sunday evening when it happened: When the greatest goal never scored took place. 

In front of more than 83,000 at the national stadium, this match - this astonishing, astounding, thrilling, heartening, heart-breaking, gruelling match, a mere seconds away from penalties – produced what could have been the most incredible comeback in the history of the world’s oldest domestic knock-out tournament.

Coventry City, Mark Robins' brave, courageous, astounding, improbable Coventry City, thought they had scored a fourth goal - a winner in a 4-3 immediate classic - in the 121st minute of extra time.

Victor Torp, an unassuming 24-year-old Danish midfielder from the equally unassuming market town of Lemvig in North Jutland, guided the ball past Manchester United’s £47.2m goalkeeper Andre Onana - to prompt utter pandemonium at one end of Wembley. While provoking consternation at the other end.

To the right of the press box, everywhere you looked was a sea of Sky Blue.

A choppy sea, for the currents were strong. From dads and kids, and mums and teenagers, and old boys and tots and everyone in between, were leaping around in delirium. Utter delirium. If you could capture the essence of happiness, of joy – deep, deep joy, this would be it.

Chaos came tumbling down the terraces, a tumult of colour, noise, and disbelief, mingled with animation, elation and celebration, delight, jubilance, merriment, and mirth. 

This correspondent has covered nearly 100 matches at all levels this season, from non-league to the Champions League – and this was the celebration to end all celebrations.

Grown men in tight polyester shirts detailing previous eras of this proud, working-class club from the west Midlands that simply refused to die - through relegations, boycotts, and the threat of liquidation from evil hedge fund owners - gripped each other vigorously.

With passion and happiness in relentless bliss that you watched with a smile, and wanted to continue forever.

United players were down and out on the hallowed green grass. Literally. Never has a team looked so broken after conceding a goal. Footballers in red lay on their fronts and backs in sheer dejection. Others stood stunned, looking into their uncertain futures. While one or two simply shrugged – which said more about them than anything.

Torp’s goal was to put the seal on a sensational comeback to beat all comebacks. A recovery for the record books. A tale for the ages. 4-3 to City. 

But wait.

Referee Robert Jones has a voice in his ear. VAR is checking for offside. The celebrations fall flat. The decibels drop, and the jumping for joy turns into hoping beyond hope.

How did we get to this point?

Earlier, it had all been so comfortable for United with Scott McTominay, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes putting the Red Devils into a seemingly unassailable position at 3-0 up with only 19 minutes to go.

That was before Callum O'Hare's deflected shot looped over Onana, for 3-2 with 11 minutes remaining. And so, it passed in the 95th minute, Haji Wright equalised from the spot, after Aaron Wan-Bissaka's handball to make it 3-3, and force 30 minutes extra time. 

Which led us to the moment that will be talked about for as long as the FA Cup exists. 

An agitated silence reigns before a decision is made.

Torp’s goal is disallowed.

The joy is punctured. The atmosphere of audacity has ended. 

Coventry’s redoubtable No11 Haji Wright, has been ruled offside in the build by the smallest margin. By the mere length of a regret. A measurement in sorrow.

Coventry had not only climbed the mountain, but for a few joyous, momentous, life-affirming seconds had also conquered it too.

Until VAR stepped in.

Ultimately, sadly, frustratingly, correctly, the decision was right, when the computer said ‘no’.

Rules had been upheld. Sentiment rightly banished, for pity is not a reason for laurels in sport. Alas.

So, penalties it was to be.

Yet there was still hope for Coventry’s fans, for the neutral, for United haters, for us romantics, for when Casemiro's opening penalty of the shootout was saved by Sky Blues’ keeper Bradley Collins it seemed Coventry could still complete the most ridiculous FA Cup turnaround in the competition’s long history stretching back to 1872.

However, Callum O'Hare was denied by Onana and when Sky Blues captain Ben Sheaf blazed over, Rasmus Hojlund like Torp, another Dane, fired home in style penalty to clinch victory for United.

Never has a winning FA Cup side looked so defeated. Was this the moment new owner Sir Jim Radcliffe decided against the beleaguered Erik Ten Hag.

Would Billionaire Ratcliffe - who made his money from the misery of outsourcing – be looking for a new manager.

From someone who got to Wembley after completing the London Marathon earlier in the day, Radcliffe gave the air of a man who failed to believe his Dutch coach would be staying the course in United’s Brave New World.

As for United's fans – the ones that actually stayed to watch the spot-kicks – as opposed to the significant number who departed in disgust after Torp’s disallowed effort, at least they had dignity enough to look embarrassed.

In the midst of victory at a club that used to be peopled with footballing colossus', only pygmies stepped forward. 

Not least the vulgar Antony who thought it would be a good idea to taunt Coventry’s valiant players. The reaction was telling. For the Sky Blues simply laughed at such a cretinous, grotesque act. For they knew the truth.

Coventry had achieved a moral victory – which could be elevated up there with their immortal 1987 achievement when winning the FA Cup for the only time in their history. 

Because history has a special place for the brave.

And my word Mark Robins' Coventry City were brave on Sunday.

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