Author: Etienne Olivier
Follow Etienne (@Eti1United) on Twitter
So this was it, the months of nervous excited waiting had culminated in this one beautiful moment; watching my beloved Reds walk down the tunnel and on to the impressive Cape Town Stadium pitch, greeted by the rapturous noise of 55,000 passionate football lovers.
Going to the open practice session the previous evening was in itself a wonderful privilege for me. Seeing 10,000 United fans who had braved the stormy conditions for a brief glimpse of their heroes assured me that I was not alone in my passion. Indeed, despite the fact it’s on the other side of the world from Manchester, Cape Town is a city with a huge and knowledgable United fan base.
After fielding an incongrous 4-3-1-2 formation against Amazulu on Wednesday night, Sir Alex opted for the more familiar 4-4-1-1, with Kagawa behind Hernandez; the little Mexican looked rusty again, his touch not as assured as it should be whilst his movement remained good. He still made his typical runs in behind the defence (the number of offsides is testament to that) and some glimpses were shown of a proper understanding developing between himself and Kagawa; obviously when Rooney is available he will start, but it is crucial that all the front players acquaint themselves with Kagawa’s style of play quickly.
Quick-footed, creative, and with an eye for goal, Kagawa struggled slightly due to the mish-mash formation and Hernandez’s inability to hold the ball up, but I don’t feel too much can be read into the Japanese’ first start for United. If anything I was very impressed with him; United have been lacking a creative playmaker for some time seem to have found one. Anderson, for some reason was deployed on the left, but spent most of his time drifting infield, crowding an already overcrowded midfield. He left Tyler Blackett exposed on numerous occasions and maybe Ajax missed a trick by not focusing their attacks more down the right. Credit to the youngster though, he kept his composure and stuck to his task manfully, despite often being confronted with two on one situations. Promising Blackett may be, he is only just 18 and far from the finished article and I believe is unlikely to feature for the first team this season but his inclusion on the tour is encouraging for both club and player.
Another youngster, Ryan Tunnicliffe, made a second brief appearance of the tour. Once again it was hard not to be impressed by his cameo. He looks tough, assured on the ball and ready to be in the senior squad or at least make the most of this opportunity. At right back Vermijl showed an eagerness to get forward to support Antonio Valencia, often running in behind the Ajax defence. Scott Wootton also performed credibly alongside Rio Ferdinand in his second start for United.
In terms of general play, it wasn’t the greatest football match. United rarely threatened in the first half despite having most of the possession. Their best chance was a Chicharito header that was well-saved by former Liverpool keeper Sander Westerveld. United were never going to be slick having arrived in Cape Town a mere 27 hours before match and the weather wasn’t helping. As Ajax Cape Town warmed to the occasion it was apparent that some joy could be had against this makeshift United team.
The second half provided some brighter moments: Kagawa heading against the bottom of the post when it seemed easier to score and a clever flick into the goal by Van Graan by Ajax. However, after the countless criticism and reports that his technique was poor, I simply had to see Bebe for myself. He received the ball five times, lost possesion due to poor control three times, controlled nicely once, and scored once. Hmm.
The absolute elation I felt when United scored a trademark stoppage time goal will stay with me forever. Life is unpredictable but somehow, someday, I hope to see United play at Old Trafford. Until then all we South Africans can do is support from afar and treasure the time they choose to spend in our country during pre-season.