CHINA - United saved their best performance until the last leg of the Asia Tour, winning an entertaining game 8-2 against Hangzhou Greentown in China.
Ryan Giggs grabbed a second-half hat-trick and was joined on the scoresheet by Michael Owen (2), Nani, Zoran Tosic and arguably the man of the match, Dimitar Berbatov.
In truth, it probably wasn’t the most useful pre-season test but Sir Alex Ferguson will still take plenty of encouragement into the more arduous Audi Cup fixtures against Boca Juniors and either AC Milan or Bayern Munich. Apart from the obvious glut of goals, he will reflect positively on the creative play of Berbatov and Nani who tore the opposition apart.
The Bulgarian striker sprayed the ball out wide for the Portuguese winger to create the first goal for Owen after 23 minutes; United's number seven hovering in line with Greentown’s last man before sliding into the six-yard box to prod home Nani's low centre. Moments earlier, Paul Scholes had uncharacteristically missed with a volley, when Nani teased a ball to him from the right flank.
The same architect was at it again for United’s second goal on the half-hour mark, following an initial surging run from right-back by Fabio. Although the Brazilian’s first attempt at a cross was poor, so too was Greentown’s attempt to clear it; when Nani regained the ball, he dinked it cleverly over the keeper and two defenders to slightly beyond the far post where Berbatov was lurking, ready to volley in from close range.
With a goal to his name, the other side of the Bulgarian striker’s game – the sublime creativity – came to the fore as United doubled the lead with arguably the best two efforts of the Asia Tour. For 3-0, Berbatov backheeled to Evra earlier in the flowing move that led to him bringing down Fletcher’s flighted pass with one touch and laying off to Tosic on the left with another. The Serbian finished the attack by taking on Greentown centre-half Wu Weichao and firing a left-foot shot across the goalkeeper and in off the far post.
Even better was to come from Berbatov. For United’s glorious fourth goal, he received Fletcher’s low pass with his back to goal, teed it up and flicked it over his shoulder for Owen to take on the chest and then rattle past Jiang Bo before the ball could touch the ground.
Jiang Bo’s experienced opposite number, Edwin van der Sar, wasn’t a mere spectator in the first period – he made one notable save by diving low to his left when Brazilian midfielder Otto’s shot took a deflection off Evans. He also had to be on his toes as a direct free-kick from Greentown skipper Ma Cheng only just cleared his top right-hand corner, while a shot across his bows from midfield talisman Yan Sang almost brought an unlikely equaliser when the score was only 1-0 to the Reds.
The Reds made two changes at half-time – Wayne Rooney replacing Owen and Ben Foster giving van der Sar a break – but there was no alteration to the style and swagger of the play. Berbatov carried on from where he left off, this time backheeling into the path of Nani inside the Greentown area. The Portuguese still had some work to do, and he produced a wonderful turn of his own to wrongfoot Varbanov before beating substitute goalkeeper Han Fen.
Five-nil up after 50 minutes, it was job well and truly done for the starting eleven. Cue a quadruple substitution with Anderson, Brown, Giggs and Park all coming on for Ferdinand, Fletcher, Scholes and Tosic.
Anderson’s first contribution was almost an assist, a pass rolled into the path of Patrice Evra who marched forward from left-back and let fly an unstoppable shot that cannoned back off the post with the keeper well beaten.
Three subs combined to make it 6-0 to United when Rooney dropped a delightful ball at the feet of Ji-sung Park on the right, and the Korean set up Giggs for a crack past Han Fen in the 61st minute.
Ten minutes later, the Welshman enthralled the crowd again when he sprinted onto Rooney’s one-touch lay-off, held off the run of Chang Lin and dinked his second goal – and United’s seventh – over the keeper.
Gibson, on for Berbatov, tested Han Fen with a low drive shortly before Wang Hong Yu scored the eighth goal of the game, by powering a 78th-minute header past Foster from fellow sub Huang Long’s left-wing corner.
Patrice Evra should have made it 8-1 when his good friend Ji-sung park created a seemingly unmissable opportunity; instead the Frenchman struck the same left-hand post he’d terrorised earlier, only this time from close range. Anderson also hit that area of the woodwork, curling a left-footed shot against it after storming through a pack of Greentown players. Gibson felt he could have done better with the rebound than sidefooting it wide.
Ryan Giggs wrapped up a second-half hat-trick, when the ball fell kindly for him in the area and he dummied the keeper to coolly slot it into the net. But even that goal, in the 88th minute, wasn’t quite the climax as Otto thundered Greentown’s second consolation strike through the legs of Jonny Evans to make the final score 8-2.
The fervent Chinese United fans in the Yellow Dragon Stadium loved every minute of it, of course, and it was also a treat for the MUTV audience - with a number of heartening signs for the campaign that lies ahead.
United: Van der Sar (Foster, 45); Fabio, Evans, Ferdinand (Brown, 59), Evra; Nani, Scholes (Anderson, 59), Fletcher (Giggs, 59), Tosic (Park, 59); Berbatov (Gibson, 70), Owen (Rooney, 45).
Goals: Owen 23, 39; Berbatov 30, Tosic 32, Nani 50, Giggs 71, 81, 88.
Greentown FC: Jiang Bo (Han Fen, 45); Zhang Ye (Fan Xiaodong, 62), Varbanov, Chang Lin (Xie Zhiyu, 81), Wu Weichao (Liu Bo 45); Yan Song (Yang Fushong, 37), Otto, Jiao Feng Bo (Wang Hong You, 62), Cai Chu Chuang (Huang Long, 62); Ma Cheng, Francisco (Chukwuma, 45).
Goals: Wang Hong You 78, Otto 90.
[This article is also available at Manchester United Official Website.]