Watford – Manchester United 1-4April 15, 2007
Wayne Rooney’s brace ensured Manchester United were the first side to book a place in the first Cup Final held at the new Wembley Stadium.
The England forward lashed home a stunning opener before tapping in midway through the second half as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men coasted past Watford.
The dazzling Cristiano Ronaldo also got in on the act, as did Kieran Richardson, while Watford’s sole highlight was Hameur Bouazza’s stunning volley which had drawn the Londoners level in the first half.
Just hours after Silver Birch successfully negotiated Aintree’s famous course, Manchester United, the Premier League’s thoroughbred, looked as if they would canter to Wembley after taking a seventh minute lead.
The reinvigorated Alan Smith let Michael Carrick’s pass run through to Rooney who cut inside Adrian Mariappa before unleashing a rocket from the edge of the box which soared into the roof of the net past the despairing Richard Lee.
Lee had to be alert to prevent United doubling their lead four minutes later. The tenacious Smith robbed his Watford namesake Tommy before playing in Ronaldo. The Portuguese aimed a low cross to Rooney but Lee bravely dived to smoother.
After being penned in for the first 18 minutes like a quarantined dog, Watford began to get a footing in the game. Jay DeMerit, the American defender whose rise from non-League football is nothing short of Hollywood, rose highest to head Smith’s free-kick goalwards, only for a deflection to divert it over.
Bouazza went closer on 22 minutes. Anyone who saw his stunning goal against Plymouth will know of his lethal left boot, but on this occasion, his effort from 20 yards drifted past the far post.The Algerian got it right four minutes later, much to the delight of the sea of yellow shirts in the Holte End. After a long delay to treat Edwin van der Sar, Smith crossed when play resumed to Bouazza whose spectacular volley flashed past the United keeper and in off the crossbar.
But Watford’s joy was short-lived however. After Rooney had won the ball on the right flank, the England forward sped to the goal-line before crossing for Ronaldo who, despite being the meat in a Watford sandwich, tapped home.
Gavin Mahon, Watford’s talismanic skipper, almost conjured up an instant response two minutes later with a powerful drive from the edge of the box which was too hot for van der Sar to hold.
But United broke at pace, their classic trait, and only a timely intervention from DeMerit prevented Ronaldo a clear route on goal.
At the other end Damien Francis might have done better with a header when he was left unmarked from Bouazza’s corner on 35 minutes.
The underdogs would have been taken heart by the sight of Rio Ferdinand limping off moments later, but they had Lee to thank for keeping a Wembley Final in sight on the stroke of half-time.
After another sublime United move, Rooney seemed destined to score his side’s third from close range when Lee instinctively stuck out his left hand to push the ball over.
Watford began the second period with renewed enthusiasm and it was the excellent Bouazza who almost dragged them level but his volley through the melee trickled wide.
United put a foot in the Final on 66 minutes when Rooney netted his second. After Clarke Carlisle’s outstretched leg temporarily stopped a United attack, Smith collected the loose ball and crossed low to Rooney who gratefully accepted the tap-in.
The United fans sang ‘Que Sera Sera’, their place at Wembley seemingly assured, but for Rooney, a Semi-Final hat-trick beckoned. Smith did his best to help his team-mate when he cut a pass back but Rooney scuffed his shot straight at Lee.
Kieran Richardson, a 78th minute substitute for Ronaldo, gave the scoreline a slightly harsh look when he raced on to Smith pass and calmly slotted home.
For Watford, a 100 mile journey back to North London to contemplate what might have been. For United, Wembley awaits.
Watford: Lee, Chambers (Kabba 70), Stewart, Carlisle, DeMerit, Francis, Mahon, Mariappa (Doyley 88), Priskin (King 78), Bouazza, Smith.
Subs not used: Loach, Bangura.
Manchester United: Van Der Sar, Evra, Heinze, Ferdinand (Fletcher 41), Brown, Ronaldo (Richardson 78), Rooney, Giggs (Solskjaer 83), Smith, Carrick, Scholes.
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Cathcart.
Referee: Howard Webb.
Assistant Referees: Phil Sharp and Glenn Turner.
Fourth Official: Martin Atkinson.