Date:Thursday December 18 2008
Eight goals, a dubious penalty, marvellous moves - all the ingredients of a classic, eh? Only thing is, it wasn't. But United are through to the finals of the World Club Championship after beating Gamba Osaka 5-3.
Van der Sar; Neville, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Scholes, Anderson; Ronaldo, Giggs, Nani; Tevez. This line-up started against the Japanese team and this line-up was that absolutely failed to impress in the first half.
Our opponents were a good little bunch of workhorses with a few flair players around, as you would expect. They were by no means brilliant but gave a good account of themselves by running twice as much as the European Champions and occasionally threatening in attack while pressed and harassed us very effectively.
Their job wasn't exactly difficult though: our players were clearly not fired up for the job. Can't blame them: after all the travelling and everything, they must have been told to save their strength for the Premiership, this tournament must not hinder our chances of retaining the title.
On the half hour mark United went into a distinctly flattering lead. Typically, it wasn't from a slick attacking move or anything: a corner was headed home by Nemanja Vidic, with a trace of a push on a Japanese defender...
Never mind, we were at least ahead but it did not spice up the game; indeed, it began to resemble a training match more than anything. Every one of our players seemed isolated from the other as their opponents ran so much more than them... or at least so much faster.
Still, we even had the comfort of a two-goal lead at the interval as another corner brought another goal, a really fine header by the otherwise quite ineffective Cristiano Ronaldo. Celebrations, fortunately, weren't overdone: it would have been embarassing in such a tournament.
Second half passed in much the same fashion: Gamba Osaka doing well, trying to unsettle us whereas our finest couldn't settle into any rhytm. But as it so often happens, a goal changed everything. Usually the first goal has such an effect but this time it was the third: a well-worked attack ended with a fine goal and suddenly, the Japanese team had a lifeline.
Well, they had it for a whole three minutes. Wayne Rooney was introduced instead of Tevez - who, by the way, was holding his own very impressively in the second half - right before the goal and scored one right after it. Fletcher, replacing Scholes earlier, launched a fine ball forward, which Rooney let bounce in front of the body of a defender, took one touch and sent the ball low into the far corner. 3-1, game over we thought.
And we were right as another brilliant move brought another United goal three minutes later: Nani and Evra played a clever one-two on the edge of the box, the Frenchman raced clear on the left and his inch-perfect cross was headed home by the ever-prolific Darren Fletcher.
And it wasn't over, the minutes of madness continued: Giggs flicked a ball with the outside of his feet into the path of Rooney who fired home from the edge of the area and put the game firmly beyond the reach of Gamba. 5-1, it was all over.
Credit to the opposition though: they came back thanks to a harsh penalty decision against Gary Neville and a sweeping, brilliant attack finished expertly by Hashimoto. But it hardly mattered: you could just see that United fell asleep again, though they were briefly woken up by Osaka's first goal and proceeded to quickly demolish the opposition before those would get their hopes up high...
Not much should be read into this game: we weren't brilliant, indeed, I'd say we were quite poor for the majority of the game yet ended with five goals scored. As I said, it resembled a training match - the result is also a testament to that. The last 15 minutes were excellent but otherwise it was the single most boring eight-goal game I've ever seen. See you on Sunday, 10.30, against LDU Quito from Ecuador, winners of Copa Libertadores.
Date:Thursday December 18 2008
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