|Photo by epSos.de on Flickr|
To the very bottom of the country we head, as Manchester United travel from Durban down to Cape Town to face an unheralded and eponymous Ajax club on the second leg of the legendary club's pre-season tour. Once again the Gaffer opts for a mix of youthful enthusiasm and veteran leadership, with unfamiliar names such as Marnick Vermijl and Scott Wootton lining up alongside the familiar monikers of Paul Scholes, Antonio Valencia and Chicharito.
Sir Alex chooses today's game to give newboy Shinji Kagawa his first start for the team, a debut eagerly anticipated by the club's legions of fans. Although the names of Robin Van Persie and Lukas Moura continue to be whispered by both fans and press alike, Kagawa is here and now, and we'll look to see how the Japanese international does in his first curtain call. Without any further ado, to a wet but temporarily sunny Cape Town Stadium we go:
o The game began with a frantic pace, easy on the eye for both the fans and neutrals alike. Although the initial pace was fast and furious, the opportunities for goals were few and far between in the early going. United saw more of the ball but the home side performed well, too -- as may be expected of the winners of the domestic South African league.
o Tyler Blackett performed well, showcasing his willingness to get involved in nearly every United attack down the left hand side of the pitch. The teenager ran his legs off in support of his older teammates, displaying a promising mix of speed, athleticism and physical strength.
o It was great to have the MUFC broadcasters calling the game on Fox Soccer, as we don't get the opportunity to hear Stewart Gardner and the irrepressible Paddy Crerand all that often in the States. One thing I've learned watching this tour is that Paddy is wrong more often than he's right about offside calls -- the club should buck up to get him and Stewart a better view of the action than they must have had.
o It took every bit of 35 minutes for the visitors to direct a ball on net, with Chicharito finally succeeding in testing the Ajax 'keeper with a bouncing header. Although the watching pleasure had substantially deteiorated from the game's promising opening, the Ajax fans had to be relatively pleased at the deadlock. The home side defended in numbers throughout the first half, keeping their shape and showing good discipline off the ball.
o My personal highlight of the first 45 minutes of "action": "So, we're in the final minutes of the first half."
o Kagawa displayed some shimmering skills, offering perfectly weighted passes to his teammates that should have led to scores on more than one occasion. Offering just a glimpse of his massive potential was more than enough to make this watcher a true believer -- this man could lead the Leagu in assists this year if he plays like he did on Saturday.
o United amped up the pressure after the interval, applying a relentless press on the home side, who were largely unable to get the ball out of their own half. Although the score line remained unmoved, at least United showed a bit of the dashing football that the club's fans have come to routinely expect.
o New signing Nick Powell made his United debut with just under 25 minutes to spare, symbolically replacing Paul Scholes -- one of England's finest being replaced by one of it's brightest young hopes.
o Denied goals, the crowd was treated to a comedic interlude with the introduction of United's homeless superstar, Bebe. Looking as if he improved not the tiniest little bit during his year away at Besitkas, Bebe displayed the touch of a steelworker and the footballing sense of a five year old during his brief spell on the pitch. Until he scored and all was forgiven.
A dull game was enlivened the slightest little by by Ajax's 86th minute goal and Bebe's stoppage time equalizer -- producing a rare pre-season draw for the Reds. Although a tie was likely the fairest outcome, United had a couple of chances to win it late, with the best coming off the foot of Powell. Although I'm certain he would have preferred a win, somehow I don't think Sir Alex will be losing too much sleep over the day's result.
This is farlieonfootie for July 22.