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Man Utd play Ajax in Europa League final

Victory will earn Utd Champions League place

United finished sixth in Premier League

CNN  — 

The city is reeling from shock and sadness, but Manchester United will still contest Wednesday’s Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm after UEFA played down the security threat following Monday’s bomb attack in Manchester.

A suspected suicide bomber killed 22 people, including children, and injured scores more during an Ariana Grande pop concert at the Manchester Arena.

As the UK came to terms with the deadliest terror attack on British soil since the 2005 London bombings, European football’s governing body UEFA agreed to cancel United’s pre-match news conference Tuesday.

But in a statement UEFA said there was “no specific intelligence” to suggest the match in the Swedish capital was under threat.

It added that additional security measures had been put in place following the attacks in Stockholm last April, but urged traveling fans to arrive “as early as possible” to go through rigorous checks at the Friends Arena stadium.

“UEFA is shocked by last night’s attack in Manchester. Our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those affected,” said the statement on its website.

“There is currently no specific intelligence which might suggest that any of the UEFA Europa League final activities in Stockholm may be the target of attacks.”

In its own statement, Manchester United said everyone at the club was “deeply shocked” by the incident and added its “thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected.”

The players and staff held a minute’s silence at their Carrington training ground Tuesday.

“We’re all very sad about the tragic events last night; we can’t take out of our minds and hearts the victims and their families,” said the club’s manager Jose Mourinho.

“It’s a pity we cannot fly with the happiness we always have before a big game”.

United was allocated 9,500 tickets for the match but reports suggest twice that number of fans were expected to travel to Sweden for the crucial match which will determine whether Mourinho’s men will be playing in the Champions League this autumn.

A sixth-placed finish in the Premier League means United has to beat Ajax qualify for the Europe’s elite competition, or face the prospect of more Europa League football next season.

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United has already won trophies in Mourinho’s first season in charge – the League Cup in February and the Community Shield in August – but Juan Mata, the club’s World Cup-winning midfielder, says Wednesday’s final will determine how successful this campaign has been for the club.

“If we can have a good game against Ajax and win the Europa League, we will speak that is has been a very good season,” Juan Mata told CNN Sport in an interview held on May 12.

“It’s going to be tough and we need to fight for it. If we win, we can have two gifts with the trophy and the Champions League.”

United last featured in the lucrative Champions League in the 2015/16 season.

Mata has scored 10 goals for United in all competitions this season.

Sapping schedule

The club experienced a mixed campaign in the Premier League, which ended Sunday.

While United set a new club Premier League record by going 25 matches unbeaten, 15 draws in 38 matches – the most of any side in the top flight – proved costly in the club’s quest to finish in the top four and thus qualify automatically for the Champions League.

And Mourinho has frequently complained about trying to manage domestic commitments and the Europa League’s often sapping schedule.

United has played 14 matches to reach Wednesday’s final, racking up thousands of miles crisscrossing Europe before reaching Stockholm. A group stage game against Ukraine’s Zorya Luhansk involved a 3,870 mile round trip, while the last-16 tie against Rostov necessitated a 4,266 mile return journey to Russia.

Champions League qualification would not only secure United extra funds – more than $1.4 billion was shared among Champions League clubs in the 2016/17 season – but the lure of top European football would also help the club attract high-caliber players during the summer transfer window.

Mourinho’s men have one final chance to compete against the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich next season.

“During the season we have had good and bad moments but we have won two trophies, in the Community Shield and the Capital One Cup. It’s been difficult in the Premier League for a few weeks. Let’s try to win and, if we win, it will be a good season,” says Mata, a $61 million purchase for United in 2014.

Youthful Ajax could pose problems

Eighteen-year-old Justin Kluivert, son of former Ajax and Barcelona striker Patrick, is one of a number of young players in the Ajax team

Ajax finished second in the Eredivisie and will still qualify for a Champions League play-off round even if they lose in Sweden.

The Dutch team, aiming for a first European trophy in 22 years, has a number of promising young players in its side – seven of the starting line up in the semifinals against Lyon were aged 21 or under – and the club has also impressed in the Europa League this term, scoring 24 goals in 14 games.

“Ajax is a great team – they have young players but are all very talented,” says Mata.

“It’s been a long time since Ajax has played a European final, so it’s going to be really important for them as well.

“I think we have a good mix of young people and experienced people and hopefully we can manage that pressure.

“When you play for Manchester United you have big responsibility, but these are the kind of games that we all love to play and hopefully we can play good and lift the trophy.

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United will be without injured striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Wednesday, but record signing Paul Pogba, who made a second-half appearance against Crystal Palace Sunday following the death of his father, is likely to feature.