Albion were beaten at Wembley in the cruellest way possible, losing 7-6 on penalties after 120 pulsating but goalless minutes against Manchester United.
Solly March was in tears moments after firing the 13th penalty of the shoot-out over the bar. Victor Lindelof kept his cool to ensure it will be an all Manchester final on June 3.
Heartbreaking though the finale was, the Albion players did the club proud. David De Gea made three world-class saves during normal time and Danny Welbeck headed a glorious chance over from close range midway through the second half.
Rob Sanchez had a relatively quiet afternoon but was at his best to deny Marcus Rashford in extra time, but no one could have complained had Albion won in normal time.
The sides had fought each other to a standstill and it seemed cruel in the extreme that penalties would decide it. Alexis Mac Allister, Pascal Gross, Deniz Undav, Pervis Estupinan, Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster all netted confidently from the spot but when March erred, United took their chance. As the players did a lap of honour at the end, thousands of Albion fans raised their voices one last time to lift a crestfallen March.
Roberto De Zerbi had named the side which finished last week’s 2-1 win at Chelsea, which meant a start in midfield for Julio Enciso while Welbeck led the attack against one of his former clubs. Joel Veltman was fit enough to make the bench after recovering from a hamstring injury.
More than 37,000 Albion fans created a fantastic atmosphere before kick-off, the east end of Wembley a wall of blue and white, the decibel level rising with every minute. Even the sun made an appearance after an afternoon of rain and cloud.
And it was Albion who created the first moment of danger on six minutes. Antony’s clumsy challenge on Kaoru Mitoma gave us a free-kick on the left-hand edge of the box. Mac Allister whipped it over the wall and it was heading into the top right corner until De Gea got across to push it away at full stretch.
Enciso was next to threaten. March and Gross worked it well down the left and when the German’s pass found him 15 yards out he let fly but the ball went a yard wide of the post. United then created a decent chance. Christian Eriksen’s pass down the inside left channel released Bruno Fernandes whose first-time strike was beaten out by Sanchez.
Half an hour in and Albion would have been delighted with how well they had done thus far. They threatened again when Aaron Wan-Bissaka made a terrific challenge on Mitoma as he was about to shoot and Enciso was a yard wide with his follow-up effort.
Casemiro picked up the first yellow card for a late challenge which caught the back of Mac Allister’s ankle before United had a really good spell just before the break. Fernandes dragged a shot wide from an angle, Antony tried to lob Sanchez from 40 yards but his effort sailed over the bar and Eriksen’s low drive, after he was picked out by Rashford, was blocked with his feet by Sanchez. Goalless at the break but Albion, particularly through their wide players, had carried the greater threat.
A twinkle-toed burst by Moises Caicedo early in the second period earned Luke Shaw a booking when he tugged him back as Albion began the half on top. Mitoma had a shot blocked and Enciso hammered the loose ball goalwards but De Gea acrobatically tipped it over at full stretch. Welbeck got a solid head on the corner but from close range directed it over the bar. The striker’s reaction said it all, a good opportunity gone.
Antony forced Sanchez to push away his low drive as United found some momentum and there was a moment of concern when Enciso barged Rashford over on the edge of the D, but Fernandes fired the free kick into the wall and ballooned the rebound over.
Enciso was replaced by Joel Veltman with Gross moving into midfield and then Welbeck, after appearing to hurt his knee challenging Lindelof, went off and Deniz Undav came on.
Both sides were feeling the pace by now but De Gea had to be at his best again eight minutes from time when March worked a yard of space for a low drive which the United keeper palmed away low to his left. Without the Spaniard, Albion would probably have been home and dry.
Extra time it was. Who would blink first? Lewis Dunk urged the Albion fans to find their voices again and extra time began with Mac Allister finding space but his effort from 25 yards was always rising over the bar. At the other end substitute Marcel Sabitzer headed wide from a good position.
Undav’s touch let him down when Mitoma appeared to have set up a shooting chance. Sanchez had had little to do compared to his compatriot at the other end but he produced a sensational stop diving to his left to prevent Rashford’s shot, which deflected off Adam Webster from finding the bottom corner.
Could either team find a breakthrough in the last 15 minutes? De Gea held onto March’s drive diving to his left before Rashford cut into the box but his right-footed drive was always drifting wide. Mitoma then played a one-two with Undav but lost control and clattered into De Gea instead.
There was one last opportunity for Albion when March dribbled his way to the line but his cross was intercepted by Fred, with Undav waiting to tap it in.
Albion won the choice of ends and the shoot-out began as the heavens opened. The first 12 penalties were converted with the aplomb, and so was the 14th. For Albion 13 proved unlucky in the extreme.
Albion: Sanchez, Gross, Webster, Dunk, Estupinan, Caicedo, Enciso (Veltman 67), March, Mac Allister, Mitoma, Welbeck (Undav 72).
Subs: Steele, Colwill, Ayari, Gilmour, van Hecke, Buonanotte, Offiah.
Referee: Craig Pawson