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Monday, May 16, 2011

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Simply the best: A Manchester United supporter holds a banner signifying United overtaking Liverpool and setting a new record with its 19th Premier League title. AP

United captures record 19th title


BLACKBURN, England — An achievement 25 years in the making, Alex Ferguson's Manchester United finally became the most successful team in English league history on Saturday with a 19th title triumph that surpassed Liverpool's record.

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On top of the mountain: Manchester United's Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring the tying goal against Blackburn on Sunday. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, giving United the point it needed to clinch the league title. AP

With only a point required at Blackburn to capture the Premier League trophy with a game to spare, Wayne Rooney salvaged a 1-1 draw from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute.

"It's very good, a long day . . . it was agony at times there," Ferguson said. "It was a disappointing game to be honest but I'm not particularly bothered by that . . . the important thing is being the most successful."

Manchester City won the F.A. Cup to take English soccer's top domestic honors back to the northwestern city.

Yaya Toure scored at Wembley to give City's expensively assembled side a 1-0 win over Stoke and a first major trophy in 35 years. But City remained in the shadow of its fierce local rival as United became English league soccer's most successful ever team.

Achieving that seemed unimaginable when Ferguson took charge of United in 1986 with a vow to knock Liverpool "off their perch."

Liverpool had just stretched its lead over United to 16-7 in the title stakes and by 1990 the Anfield outfit had raised the bar to 18.

But United kept its faith in Ferguson and in 1993 he ended the club's 26-year wait for another league crown.

Eleven more have followed since then, and in that time Liverpool has failed to top the standings once.

"Hopefully, we will keep it going for a long time," Ferguson said. "It's a great achievement."

Even at 69 after winning his 27th major title at United, Ferguson has no plans to retire. And neither has 37-year-old midfielder Ryan Giggs, who has played in each of United's 12 Premier League-winning teams since 1993.

"Twenty years ago we were nowhere near Liverpool," Giggs said. "It's a good feeling to be ahead of our greatest rivals."

Manchester City has been a less formidable rival, but the big-spending team ended its 35-year title drought by beating Stoke in the F.A. Cup final two hours after United's landmark success.

"With the F.A. Cup, we have won it more times than everyone," Ferguson reminded City, which has won it just five times to United's 11. "And now we have won the Premier League more times than anyone."

Without an F.A. Cup title since 1969 or a trophy of any kind since the 1976 League Cup, City outplayed a Stoke side in its first ever F.A. Cup final.

Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen saved a curling effort by man-of-the-match Mario Balotelli that was heading to the top corner and David Silva shot over the bar before another shot from Balotelli was deflected into Toure's path.

The Cote d'Ivoire midfielder, who scored the winning goal at the same end in the semifinal win over United, smashed in a fierce shot to send the City fans in the 88,643 crowd wild.

"I can say only that I'm very happy for all the supporters," City manager Roberto Mancini said. "After many years they deserve to win this trophy."

United's supporters will now have to dismantle the banner they updated at Old Trafford each season showing how many years City had gone without winning anything.

"I couldn't care less what they do at Old Trafford," City goalkeeper Joe Hart said. "It's nothing to do with Manchester United, it's about Man City.

"We deserved to win the cup, we've beaten the best and we've beaten a very good Stoke side today."

City has also secured a top-four Premier League place and a berth in next season's Champions League, but United remains the dominant force in English soccer.

United's breakthrough came after a moment of controversy, when striker Javier Hernandez was tripped in the area by goalkeeper Paul Robinson.

Blackburn's players felt Hernandez went down too lightly, and the penalty was only awarded by referee Phil Dowd after he consulted his assistant amid protests from both teams.

Rooney kept his cool to score his 15th goal of the season — and the one that ensured Liverpol's record would be surpassed.

"I was terrified, the ref took a long time to give it," Rooney said. "I had to compose myself. I'd been practicing all week."

For the England forward, who grew up supporting Liverpool's local rival Everton, the goal is payback for the lucrative new contract he was awarded in October after he rocked United by threatening to leave.

"After the year I've had, with the ups and downs, this is for the fans and the team," Rooney said.

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