The Reds, English football's crown jewels, had travelled to the Emerald Isle to open Dublin's glistening new Aviva Stadium. And it was a group of rough diamonds, mined from the semi-professional League of Ireland, who had been charged with the unenviable task of trying to stop United's stars from shining.
For 13 minutes, the home side – a term used loosely here, for United supporters dominated the virgin terraces – succeeded. But the Reds, bolstered by returning World Cup stars Rooney, Park, Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic – all playing their first games since the summer tournament – were never likely to stumble. Valencia and Owen were also named in Sir Alex’s starting XI, their first run-outs since injury curtailed their 2009/10 campaigns. For Owen, it meant the end of a five-month wait to lace up his boots again.
The Dublin crowed cheered each Rooney touch, but Ji-sung Park had the greatest early impact. He missed a free header from close range before, shortly afterwards, winning a strong tackle in midfield and teeing up Rooney, who dragged his shot wide of the target. Then the South Korean opened the scoring in bizarre fasion: he only meant to block a defender’s clearance but the ball cannoned off his shin and flew past goalkeeper Gary Rogers and into the net.