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Football: LEHMANN OF STEAL! The FA CUP FINAL: Arsenal 0 Man Utd 0 aet - Arsenal win 5-4 on penalties Gunners nick the cup as Jens shows he's Traut of this world.


THANKFULLY, the only thing missing was the broken neck.

But Jens Lehmann can today join that very small club - German goalkeeping FA Cup heroes.

Bert Trautmann's bravery in 1956 helped Manchester City win the trophy. Yesterday, Lehmann performed his own eccentric brand of heroics...and the only thing broken was the United heart.

Gee, back home in his Tampa mansion even Malcolm Glazer might have shed a tear or two at the injustice of it all.

Die, Glazer, die, United fans chanted. Cry, Glazer, cry, more like it.

But football and the FA Cup love a cliche.

And never back against a German in a penalty shoot-out.

After defying United's barely believable dominance for two hours, the Arsenal keeper made the only save of the shoot-out - diving to his right to keep out Paul Scholes's attempt.

And it was left to Patrick Vieira to convert the decisive kick and complete the unlikeliest of victories in the last final to played at the Millennium Stadium.

Never mind the Old Bill driving at 159 mph, THIS is what you call a real travesty of justice.

No-one could have felt the pain more than Wayne Rooney.

He may have more cars than a post-match M4, his fiancee may have more clothes than Selfridges, his language may be industrial enough to shame a shop-floor.

But few players have a wider footballing vocabulary than this irrepressible teenager.

And no-one could have looked more distraught as Arsenal - reduced to 10 men when Jose Antonio Reyes was dismissed in extra-time injury-time - overcame their embarrassment to celebrate the club's 10th FA Cup triumph.

As the game got under way in an unexpectedly gentle vein - it was more Relax than Two Tribes - Rooney let Robert Pires win a 50-50. After that, he did not allow Arsenal time to take a single breath.

Strike after strike was delivered with comic-book power.

Lehmann did the splits as he kept the first one out and only the linesman's arm barred the way to Rio Ferdinand's first United goal from the rebound.

Another took the pimples off the German's gloves, a bewildering volley flashed past the frame quicker than the above-mentioned police driver, and he beat everyone bar the Royal Welsh Regiment band before frightening Lehmann with another missile.

Ironically, the best first-half chance had nothing to do with Rooney. Lauren gave up counting Cristiano Ronaldo's step-overs and the winger's cross was headed over from a range that Scholes normally considers a formality.

Meanwhile United keeper Roy Carroll could have read the programme...or done Sudoku.

The last person you would have expected to catch the 4-5-1 bug was Arsene Wenger. Sure, United play a version but they have got the appropriate personnel. Dennis Bergkamp wasn't alone, he was ostracised. The Dutchman has never been the quickest but, at 36, it was a bit much to ask him to constantly harass the purring pair of Ferdinand and Mikael Silvestre.

And the extra Arsenal man in midfield was a boy. And not a man-boy like Rooney.

Cesc Fabregas is a precocious talent. But this was too much for him.

But almost out of pig-headedness - probably the reason why Edu and Freddie Ljungberg had tracksuits on - Wenger persevered.

When a change eventually came, it was almost as mystifying. From 4-5-1 to 4-6-0, Ljungberg replacing a thoroughly fed-up Bergkamp.

And predictably it failed to rid Arsenal of the black plague that was swarming over them.

In fact Rooney was almost a one-man plague. His impudent swerver from the tightest of angles that smacked the post was an outrageous summing-up of his instinctive genius.

Even the toughest-talking Premier League lawyer could not have given Ashley Cole a sterner interrogation.

At least Cole appeared to relish the battle. As did Philippe Senderos, the Swiss defender at least justifying one Wenger prefer the 20-year-old to Sol Campbell.

But even he became desperate.

Only a miraculous goal-line clearance by Ljungberg - heading Ruud van Nistelrooy's own point-blank header on to the underside of the crossbar - earned Arsenal the unwarranted reward of an extra 30 minutes to try and emerge from their strange trance. Fat chance.

Pires somehow got lost amidst 72,000 people and Gilberto lived up to one half of his nickname Invisible Wall. I'm not talking wall.

Thierry Henry was in the crowd...and was still Arsenal's most dangerous player.

At least in Robin van Persie - whose arrival signalled the end of Fabregas's misery - Arsenal had someone remotely resembling a striker. And his 30-yard free-kick in the first period of extra-time brought the FIRST save out of Carroll.

That was how dominant United were.

Rob Styles might have felt a compunction to reward two dubious United penalty claims - for hand-ball against Cole and Kolo Toure - merely out of a sense of justice.

But surely United would finally administer justice themselves?

Surely van Nistelrooy would pop home a simple header from six yards? No. Surely Scholes - swivelling and shooting - would end Lehmann's resistance? No.

And after Reyes was dismissed for a second yellow-card offence against Ronaldo, it was left to the penalty gods to deal out justice.

Lauren, Ljungberg, van Persie, Cole and Vieira were nerveless - as were van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo, Rooney and Roy Keane.

Scholes was not...and the penalty gods had dealt out the roughest justice of all.


SAVE THE BEST FOR LAST: Arsenal star Jens Lehmann brilliantly stops Paul Scholes's spot-kick; GUTTED: Rooney didn't deserve to end up a loser; LJUNGBERG sprays Pires with champagne; AGONY: Scholes reflects on his miss; I'M LEH-MANN: Hero keeper Lehmann didn't drop anything all afternoon - and he wasn't going to let the cup slip from his grasp
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 22, 2005
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