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United in semis after eight years

London: Diego Forlan struck again as Manchester United reached the semi-finals of the English League Cup for the first time since 1994 with a 1-0 victory over Premier League rivals Chelsea on Tuesday.

Holders Blackburn Rovers also won their quarter final, beating second division Wigan Athletic 2-0, while first division Sheffield United claimed a place in the last four for the first time in their history with a 3-1 home win over Crystal Palace.

The remaining quarter final is between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park.

At Old Trafford, the growing importance of the competition for United was reflected in Alex Ferguson’s strong team selection, with Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer omitted to protect minor injuries.

Ferguson was rewarded with his side’s eighth victory in as many games in all competitions, while Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri has to pick his players up after their first defeat in 12 games.

Forlan, the forward once derided for his poor goals return, had to wait until the 80th minute for his latest moment of glory.

Chelsea’s Italian striker Gianfranco Zola was caught in possession, allowing David Beckham to play Forlan in.

The £7.5 million buy from Independiente advanced on Carlo Cudicini and steered his shot through the Chelsea ’keeper’s legs for his seventh goal of the season.

He nearly made it eight moments later, dragging a shot from another Beckham pass on to the post.

Substitute Boudewijn Zenden went close to equalising for the 1998 winners late on with a 25m effort that Fabien Barthez parried to safety.

In the first half, Paul Scholes twice went close for United — beaten in the 1994 final by Aston Villa — and Ryan Giggs had an effort cleared off the line by Mario Melchiot.

Quique de Lucas wasted Chelsea's best chance of the first period, driving wide from close range.

Cole brace

At the JJB Stadium, home of second division Wigan, former United striker Andy Cole propelled Blackburn to within touching distance of their second final in succession.

Cole, who scored the winner in Blackburn’s 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur in last year’s final in Cardiff, pounced from close range after 16 minutes following good work from Turkish midfielder Tugay.

Cole added his second 10 minutes from time, and although Blackburn ’keeper Brad Friedel made saves from Wigan’s Neil Roberts and Gary Teale, Blackburn were in control.

Blackburn boss Graeme Souness was sent to the stands during the match for arguing with the fourth official.

Two goals in two minutes late on from Paul Peschisolido secured victory for Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

Peschisolido, the Canadian striker, scored on 86 and 88 minutes after an 82nd-minute Robert Page own goal had cancelled out Sheffield’s first half opener from Carl Asaba.

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