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30 November 2023

Six key players in the Europa League final

Photo: AP


With Manchester United and Ajax set to face off in Wednesday's Europa League final in Stockholm, AFP Sport selects six players who could decide the game:

Sergio Romero (Manchester United)Usually the deputy to David de Gea, Argentina international goalkeeper Romero has shown himself to be a more than capable stand-in for the Spaniard during United's Europa League campaign.

The former Sampdoria goalkeeper has played 11 games to De Gea's three in the competition and proved notably effective in their narrow 2-1 aggregate win over Celta Vigo in the semi-finals.

He confirmed his form with a clean sheet on his most recent appearance, saving a penalty from Manolo Gabbiadini in a 0-0 draw at Southampton.

Davy Klaassen (Ajax)At 24, captain Klaassen makes for an unlikely elder statesman in Peter Bosz's tender Ajax team.

An academy graduate and Netherlands international, Klaassen is a box-to-box midfielder who has scored a career-best 21 goals for the Amsterdam giants this season.

He was the architect of Ajax's stunning quarter-final win over Schalke, his two first-leg goals - one a penalty - laying the foundations for a 4-3 aggregate success.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United) Armenian speedster Mkhitaryan did not make his Europa League bow for United until their fourth group game, but he has since become something of a lucky charm.

His five goals in the tournament to date include key away goals in knockout-phase games at Saint-Etienne, Rostov and Anderlecht.

Substituted at half-time on his full United debut, in a 2-1 loss at home to Manchester City in September, the former Borussia Dortmund star has bounced back to become a firm fan favourite at Old Trafford.

Bertrand Traore (Ajax) Yet to make the grade with parent club Chelsea, Traore joined Ajax on loan last August, having previously spent two years working under Bosz during a loan spell at Vitesse Arnhem.

The 21-year-old Burkina Faso forward expressed disappointment at being farmed out on loan again and made a slow start to life at the Amsterdam ArenA.

But the tricky wide player has come to life in the Europa League, notably scoring two goals as part of a man-of-the-match performance in their 4-1 semi-final first-leg win over Lyon.

Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)An injury sustained by Anthony Martial prior to United's Europa League clash with FC Midtjylland last season gave Rashford his big chance and the tournament continues to be kind to him.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's knee injury brought the 19-year-old England striker into the starting XI and he has proved decisive in the knockout phase.

He scored a smartly taken extra-time winner against Anderlecht in the quarter-finals and procured a valuable away goal with a fine free-kick at Celta Vigo in the last four.

Kasper Dolberg (Ajax) With his floppy blond hair and unerring finishing, 19-year-old Dolberg has become the poster boy of an Ajax side whose youthful vigour recalls the club's last great side of the mid-1990s.

The Dane spent a year in the youth team after signing from Silkeborg in 2015 and has exploded into first-team action this season, scoring 23 goals in all competitions.

With six goals, he is the highest scorer still in action in the competition, but needs a hat-trick in the final to supplant Roma's Edin Dzeko and Giuliano of Zenit Saint Petersburg as overall top marksman.