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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Malaysia Match Report from RN Reader Rosso

United arrived in Kuala Lumpur for the first leg of their 2009 Asia Tour. This is United's 4th visit to Malaysia (that I know of). The last time was in 2001 when they beat another Malaysian select 6-0. Prior to that, a United team in 1995, sans Cantona, Kanchelskis, Hughes and Ince arrived with a group of then unknown young players such as Beckham, the Neville brothers, Butt and Scholes played the countries most successful team, Selangor FC twice, beating them 4-1 and 2-0.

To be honest, although the Asian tours are always a good opportunity (and for most, the only opportunity) for United supporters in Asia to see the boys play, I'm always wary of them. Being someone who frequently travels between the UK and Malaysia, I know how tiring these trips half way across the world can be, and the jet lag certainly doesn't help. Add in the tight schedule and the promotional work the players have to do, I can't imagine how this can be good pre-season preparation.

Anyways, this time around, the United team arrived to a huge fan fare on Friday, 17th July 2009. With the arrival time being kept secret, the United fans camped at the airport since early morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of the players. After touching down, the United players certainly wasted no time in heading straight to promotional events. The team headed to a lunch reception and autograph signing sessions (for a selected few) at the Mandarin Oriental. After that, I think Rio, Gibson, Nani and Fletcher were at some promotional 5 aside game and Scholesy was at some other charity event. Again, this worries me a little as I dont know how much rest the players actually got after such a long trip. However, you probably get good sleep on the plane if you're flying first class.

On the day of arrival, United had an open public training session at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, watched by 30,000 supporters, which lasted about an hour. Having promised my first born to someone I know who works in AIG, I managed to obtain both tickets for the training session and match. I attended a similiar public training session when United were last here in 2001. Back then, it was obvious who was the most natural footballer in the squad. During the keep-the-ball sessions, the volleying practices, long and short passing, it was obvious at all these come most naturally to Paul Scholes. In the current training session, that hasn't changed. Scholsey is still by far the most techically gifted footballer in the team! It's worrying that he's one of the older players and will probably be playing in his last season with United.

On match day itself, I attented the AIG Pre-match luncheon (came with my match tickets) at the Palace of the Golden Horses. Nothing noteworthy about it except that it was obvious those tickets was reserved for high paying AIG premium holders who are not necessarily United supporters, or football fans for that matter! (''Who wears No.3 for United? Errr..Gary Neville?''.''Who was United's manager before Sir Alex? Err..Matt Busby? ''.'' mean they have an AWAY jersey ??''). Was hoping to catch somebody from United at the luncheon but sadly none was there. Headed straight for the stadium from the hotel.

The stadium itself is easily the biggest I've ever been to, with a 100,000 capacity. Getting into it however, was an absolute nightmare. 100,000 football fans trying to get into the stadium via 4 main gates, you can imagine the crowd and the queues. The beating afternoon sun doesn't help as well! The stadium is rarely filled so I guess the officials don't have much experience with dealing with such a large crowd. Getting into OT during matchday is so ridiculously simple by comparison.

There was a carnival like atmosphere around the stadium pre-match, with stalls selling food and football memoribilias set up especially just for the event. A sporting event this size is rare in Kuala Lumpur and for most of the United supporters there, especially the younger ones, it would be the first time they see their heroes up close for real. In the stadium itself, you'd be forgiven to think that United were the home team. The majority was wearing United jerseys and only a rare few Malaysian kits were seen! Even the loudest cheer during warm up was reserved for the United players. For most, if not all the supporters in the stadium, the United players were easily recognised compared to the home team, whom very few other that most hard-core Malaysian football fans would know of. Strangely, Van Der Sar appeared for the warm up wearing the long sleeved jersey and long pants, despite the temperature in the stadium almost touching 34 degrees C! Played the match in long sleeves as well!

The game started at 1730 local time. United started VDS in goal, with a rather predictable back four. Rio and Evans at center-back, JOS at right back and Evra on the left. Scholes and Anderson started in midfield with Nani at left wing and Gibson on the right. Rooney started the match up front (long may it continue!), partnering Berbatov. United scored early on with a real goal poachers effort, tapping in after the Malaysian goal keeper parried Berbatov's effort. Then Rooney turned creator, laying off a pass for Nani to slot in a second. After that, United took their foot off the pedal and the match became sort of a practice session for the players. However, it was obvious that this is United's first proper match of the pre-season and there were signs of rustiness. The passing was, in my opinion, wasteful. Although there were some spectacular 40-50 yard crossfield passes, they were giving the ball away far too often, with Nani and Scholes being the chief culprits. Nani showed the typical dribbling and quick feet that we've come to known, but his decision making and final balls still left a lot to be desired. I seriously wonder if he's the right man to lessen the blow of Ronaldo's departure. Gibson too had a lot of space on the right wing but wasted too many crosses, but he's not playing his natural position. The Malaysians then managed to pull a goal back through their No.17, M. Amri Yahya. Evra failed to deal with a simple long ball up front when he mistimed his jump, allowing Yayha to receive the ball, and seeing VDS off his line,lobbed the United keeper from 30 yards. Half time came shortly and the fans were beginning to clamour for....Michael Owen. One thing I noticed among the local United supporters is that there are loads of Owen No.7 shirts around. Even when the names of the players were announced, Owen, along with Rooney and Giggs, got the loudest cheer. While there are still a lot of rivalry between United and Liverpool supporters over here in Asia, the hatred for them is probably not as intense as it is in the UK, and Owen is still very high regarded over here (like ummm....Richard Clayderman and Vanessa Mae)

The second half started with Foster coming on for VDS, and his first significant contribution was a howler allowing the Malaysians to get a shock equaliser. Failing to control a simple back pass, he allowed Yayha to score his second goal of the match. The equaliser however, failed to inject a sense of urgency to the United players. The practice match mood prevailed and we saw a host of substitutions, with Tosic (he's tiny!), Fabio, Macheda (he's very tall!) , Brown, Owen and eventually Giggs, to a standing ovation, coming on. With the match locked at 2-2 with 10 minutes to go, United decided to turn on the screw and went of the winner. They were rewarded when Owen manage to slot home the winner with 6 minutes ago. Ruud Van Nilsterooy scored on his first appearance in the red shirt against Malaysia the last time they were over here and here's to hoping that Owen will score as many as Ruud did.

The match finished 3-2 to United and overall it was a good workout for the lads. They werent at their sharpest but this is to be expected, being their first match of the pre-season.! Will look forward to the rematch on Monday. Am moving to Australia for good by the time the new season starts and will surely miss going to OT to see them play. Anyway, heading to the KL Twin Towers to see if I can catch a glimpse of any United players doing a bit of shopping!

With regards from Kuala Lumpur, Rosso

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