Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saluted Manchester United’s never-say-die star as they reached the Champions League quarter-finals with a historic 3-1 win over Paris Saint Germain on Wednesday.
United became the first team in European Cup history to recover from losing the first leg of a knockout round tie 2-0 at home.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice either side of Juan Bernat’s equaliser before Marcus Rashford converted a controversial stoppage-time VAR-awarded penalty to send United through on away goals.
It was an incredible result given United were without the suspended Paul Pogba as well as nine injured stars including Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Ander Herrera.
But United interim manager Solskjaer insisted he never doubted his players could do the unthinkable in the last 16 second leg in Paris.
“The belief in the boys was just what we hoped for. It was fantastic,” Solskjaer told BT Sport.
“You always know it is possible. With this club, this is what we do. It’s Man Utd. It’s the Champions League. That’s what it does.”
Faced with a daunting first leg deficit, Solskjaer admitted United desperately needed Lukaku’s second minute goal to put the momentum back in their favour.
Once United had opened the scoring, Solskjaer felt the French champions were haunted by the ghosts of their previous failures from winning positions in the Champions League, including blowing a 4-0 lead against Barcelona two years ago.
“It was a great start. We started with a plan to get the first goal, but we didn’t expect it to come so soon,” he said.
“We wanted an open game with many goals and that’s what happened.
“There is always some mental doubt because they (PSG) have had those experiences.
“Our boys are young and fresh which gave us more energy when we needed that goal.”
United had a huge slice of luck for the winner as VAR ruled that PSG defender Presnel Kimpembe, turning his back as he jumped, had handled a Diogo Dalot shot as it struck him on the arm in the penalty area.
Kimpembe barely extended his arm at all, but Rashford made the most of the opportunity as he calmly netted from the spot.
– Fearless –
Solskjaer claimed it was the right decision, although he was nervous when Rashford stepped up to take his first ever penalty for United.
“The referee had a big, big call to make. My staff said the player made himself big, so it’s a clear penalty,” Solskjaer added.
“I was in the Champions League with Molde and we got a penalty in the last minute and my player missed that and we went out.
“I had to try and calm everyone down. Of course, there were doubts. But Rashford, he’s 21 and the pressure on the boy, there were no nerves whatsoever, fearless.”
Solskjaer has had an astonishing impact since arriving from Molde to replace the sacked Jose Mourinho in December.
He is yet to lose a domestic match and has won every away game in all competitions.