Ferguson had already said Scholes would play in the final if they qualified and he responded with a stunning swerving shot from 25m that went high and wide of goalkeeper Victor Valdes in the 14th minute of the semi-final second leg to give United a 1-0 aggregate victory.

 

Calling it a "fantastic goal", Ferguson told reporters: "We can't expect him to score 15-20 goals a season like he did when he was younger, but the one he got tonight makes up for all the ones he can no longer score."

 

Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard rued his side's inability to convert chances.

 

Scholes was suspended for the 1999
final against Bayern Munich [AFP]
"We did everything but score. It was an even game. If anything we possibly had the better of the play, but the rules state that the team that scores more goals goes through, and we did not score."

 

Barcelona, and especially their Argentinian winger Lionel Messi, threatened time and again with some inspired approach play but were thwarted by brilliant defending from United's back line with defenders Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown outstanding.

 

The game burst into life from the kick-off with Scholes, making just about his only mistake of the night, fortunate not to concede a penalty for a foul on Messi just inches outside the box after only 30 seconds.

 

Four free-kicks inside the first three minutes indicated the passion and commitment of both teams, with United looking a different side from the one pinned on the back foot for most of last week's goalless first leg at the Nou Camp.

 

Both teams were also looking to get the decisive breakthrough as soon as possible with Messi involved in almost every Barca raid.

 

United, chasing a double of Champions League and Premier League titles, struck the decisive goal when Cristiano Ronaldo attempted to run at the Barca defence but lost the ball to Gianluca Zambrotta whose misplaced pass found Scholes.

 

He controlled it, let it bounce and then swerved it past Valdes to clinch his 21st goal in his 101st Champions League appearance.

 

It was only his second goal in any competition this season but few could have felt better.

 

Chelsea play Liverpool in the second leg of the other semi-final at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, starting 1-1 after last week's first leg at Anfield.