Keane's final trophy and Ronaldo the teenager: Man United's last FA Cup triumph

Millwall were the surprise opposition when Alex Ferguson’s side reached the final in 2004.

FA Cup final Keane lifts the FA Cup. PA Archive / Press Association Images PA Archive / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

OVER A DECADE has passed since Manchester United last lifted the FA Cup.

The Red Devils can equal Arsenal’s tally this afternoon by winning the competition for the 12th time with victory over Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium, but their record in recent years has been relatively poor.

Beaten finalists in 2005 and 2007, you have to go back to 22 May, 2004, for their last triumph.

The game was staged at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff with Wembley under reconstruction, and plucky underdogs Millwall provided the opposition after the First Division side had knocked out Walsall, Telford United, Burnley, Tranmere Rovers and Sunderland en route to the final.

Having finished 15 points off champions Arsenal and four back from runners-up in the Premier League, the final represented a golden opportunity for Alex Ferguson’s side to avoid ending the season empty-handed.

For the Lions, who claimed 10th place in England’s second tier, it was the chance to pit themselves against some of the best players in the world and maybe, just maybe, cause one of the greatest upsets in modern football.

Their mission was made that bit tougher by news that captain Kevin Muscat would miss out with a knee injury, while striker Danny Dichio was unavailable through suspension.

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Final - Manchester United v Millwall The teams line out at the Millennium Stadium. EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Player/manager Dennis Wise, an FA Cup winner with Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang in 1988, picked himself in midfield alongside David Livermore and Tim Cahill was tasked with getting forward to support lone striker Neil ‘Chopper’ Harris.

Once-capped Ireland international Richie Sadlier had been forced to retire at the age of 24 the previous September but fellow Dubliner Robbie Ryan, making his final appearance for Millwall after rejecting a one-year contract extension, was named at left-back.

That meant he was given the unenviable task of marking a talented, young Portuguese winger who was coming to end of his debut season in English football.

Cristiano Ronaldo had shown glimpses of brilliance since a £12.24 million move from Sporting Lisbon in the summer of 2003, but the 19-year-old was still learning his trade and occasionally left team-mates, fans and his manager frustrated with his inconsistency and lack of an end product.

And named in a United team which also featured captain Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and top scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy, the teenager looked to take centre stage in front of 71,350 fans — twisting and turning Ryan and the rest of the Millwall players inside out at every opportunity.

CrixRonnieOfficial / YouTube

As expected, it was all United from the word go and Millwall’s Andy Marshall tipped over a superb Roy Keane volley from the edge of the box on 23 minutes.

Ronaldo had been heavily-involved in the first half and he opened the scoring a minute before the break — arriving late to power home a header after Gary Neville’s lofted cross to the back post.

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Final - Manchester United v Millwall Ronaldo celebrating his goal with Wes Brown. EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Millwall were struggling to get to terms with the pace of the game and 35-year-old Wise attempted to stamp his mark on the occasion by chopping down United’s playmaker Paul Scholes on a number of times.

He was late shown a yellow card by referee Jeff Winter for a late challenge on Giggs.

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Final - Manchester United v Millwall Wise tangles with Scholes. Matthew Ashton Matthew Ashton

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Final - Manchester United v Millwall And again... John Walton John Walton

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Final - Manchester United v Millwall One more time. Mike Egerton Mike Egerton

On 65 minutes, Van Nistelrooy made it 2-0 from the penalty spot after Livermore’s tackle from behind on Giggs, and the Dutchman doubled his tally nine minutes from time with Giggs again the creator.

To lift the trophy, the United players wore shirts with Jimmy Davis’ name and number  to remember the former youth team player who had been killed in a car accident in August 2003.

It would also be the final time Ferguson got his hands on the FA Cup as future finals with Arsenal and Chelsea, and also Keane’s last silverware in a red shirt.

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Final - Manchester United v Millwall Ferguson hugs Ronaldo. John Walton John Walton

Watch highlights of the game:

AM94copam / YouTube

Manchester United: Howard (Carroll 84), G Neville, Brown, Silvestre, O’Shea, Ronaldo (Solskjaer 84), Fletcher (Butt 84), Keane, Giggs, Scholes, van Nistelrooy.

Millwall: Marshall, Ryan (Cogan 74), Ward, Lawrence, Elliott, Sweeney, Livermore, Wise (Weston 89), Ifill, Cahill, Harris (McCammon 75).

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