VIDEO: Marcus Rashford scores stunning free-kick to put Man Utd one step closer to Europa League final


    It is by no means as spectacular or as eye-catching as what is going on in Madrid, but in his own sweet way Marcus Rashford is dragging his team to a European final, much in the manner of Cristiano Ronaldo.

    CR7 is doing it with avalanches of goals. Hat-tricks, records. He is a phenomenon. Rashford is simply scoring winners. Then again, he is just 19. Who knows what he will have achieved by the time he is Ronaldo’s age, given the opportunity.

    He is only in his present position, remember, because of an injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Manchester United’s interest in Antoine Griezmann has been widened to include Kylian Mbappe, according to the latest reports.

    Rashford could maybe survive the arrival of one, but two? He wouldn’t deserve relegation to the margins if his goals take Manchester United to the Champions League next season. And that is what he is doing with his influence on this Europa League run.

    He found a way through in Vigo on Thursday night, just as he did to eliminate Anderlecht in the quarter-final stage. With Jose Mourinho increasingly talking like a man who has given up on the top four, Rashford has risen to the challenge of this European campaign.

    Manchester United had squandered several first-half chances – none of them Rashford’s fault – when he won the free-kick that led to the goal. It was a strong, brave run and it drew a foul from Celta Vigo captain, Mailo, for which he was booked.

    Rashford and Daley Blind stood over the ball. Outside the penalty area, to the right. Blind made the dummy run and stepover, Rashford hit it curling on the diagonal, out of the reach of goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez. He ran, arms outstretched like wings, to the United bench, where he was embraced by several coaches. Mourinho seemed preoccupied with instructions elsewhere.

    What confidence, though. What courage. The £90m Paul Pogba takes free-kicks too, you know. There are men who fancy their chances throughout this United team – yet Rashford is unfazed by any of that. He took the responsibility here, much as Ronaldo takes it for Madrid.

    Mourinho has complained that his forwards are shot-shy and fail to define games, and it is the youngest of them all who responds to that criticism.

    Vigo cannot be taken lightly in the return – this is a single goal win, after all, not the four Ajax put past Lyon in the other semi-final – but United should have enough to hold off a mid-table La Liga side and reach the final in Stockholm later this month.

    They will be a game from the Champions League, and a second trophy under Mourinho at that point. Not a bad return for his first season and one would hope he remembers Rashford’s contribution if it happens.

    It must be said, they love a motivational slogan around these parts. One word – afouteza, loosely meaning courage, and the will to show it – was plastered on lampposts across town, while at the Balaidos stadium, the tunnel was a mess of messages.

    ‘Dream it! And fight to make it happen!’ read one. ‘Your most important muscle is your heart,’ informed another. All in the local dialect, of course, Galicia enjoying civic pride every bit as strong as that in the Catalan of Basque regions.

    When Liverpool lost 3-1 here in 1998, cars circled the centre honking celebratory horns almost until daybreak, and there remains something special about a city with one team, and an undivided loyalty. Not many Barcelona or Real Madrid sympathisers down here, one imagines.