A picture perfect evening in Shanghai left Manchester United and Shenhua fans with a 1-0 performance that saw new boy Shinji Kagawa grab match MVP honors and his first goal as a red devil. The 42 thousand fans left satisfied from a dominant United performance but a scoreline that saved face for local Shanghai Shenhua, who fielded a predominantly second string side.
Fans that showed up early for the United Shenhua kickoff were lucky to catch the prematch curtain-raiser. Chileans Universidad Catolica U15 crowned champions of the Manchester United Premier Cup (formerly the Nike Cup) in a thrilling 2-1 curtain-raiser match with Japanese side Gamba Osaka. The Japanese youngsters may feel disappointed after giving up a lead with ten minutes remaining, but afterwards watching Osakan hero Shinji Kagawa shine for United may have been a consolation for the youngsters.
On a great night of football the underlying message was definitely, “Japanese football has firmly arrived at the highest level of the game.” Asian football is on the rise and Manchester United is right in the mix. Demonstrating this fact was the overwhelming dominant red seen throughout Shanghai Stadium, although cheers could certainly be heard for Shenhua whenever they encroached on goal. Local star Cao Yunding even received thunderous support after he came on in the 68th minute, but it was the likes of Scholes, Chicharito, and the legend himself Sir Alex who received the most vocal support throughout the preseason match.
Both sides were content to start the match with a line of fresh faces, offering a chance to new signings and up-and-comers to get first team action. For Shenhua that meant stars Drogba, Anelka, and Moreno were left off the team sheet (disappointingly Zhujun did not make an appearance). Whilst from United’s last seasons regulars only Ferdinand, Valencia, and Lindegaard were starting up. Still both sides started brightly and played a free-flowing football that was a well deserved spectacle for fans.
The best chance of a possession-oriented first half came to Shenhua and Joel Griffiths who slipped past Ferdinand and forced Lindenhurst’s best save of the night. Batista will be most satisfied seeing Griffiths healthy and back in action after a long injury spell. As the game wore on United’s possession encroached deeper into Shenhua’s half and after the removal of defender Moises at half Shenhua was largely on the back foot, occassionally threatening on the counter.
With United enjoying large spells of possesion in the second half Kagawa received plenty of touches as he dropped into midfield alongside Scholes who came on in the 70th. The scale was tipped with the introduction of Hernandez in the 60th minute who, 6 minutes later, broke through on the left flank to find Kagawa unmarked at the penalty spot. The Japanese attacker made no mistake and slotted his first goal with United. Afterwards Shenhua back up keeper did will to keep out shots from Bebe, Chicharito, Scholes and again Kagawa through some find goalkeeping.
Sir Alex will take confidence away from Kagawa’s match winner and performance as he establishes himself with the squad and looks to reproduce last season’s prolific form with Borussia Dortmund (18 goals in all competitions). Batista and Shenhua, who had little to gain but face in the match, will have succeeded in their mission and look ahead to gaining ground in the Chinese Super League against table toppers Guangzhou Evergrande. The match is likely to feature Drogba in his first start with Shanghai. Meanwhile United will first head to Scandanavia in the final leg of the 22,000km preseason tour, hopefully leaving enough to usurp neighbors City of league honors this year.
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