Never underestimate the impact Wayne Rooney can have on a football match.
United may well have already been 2-0 up against Gamba Osaka when Rooney was brought on in Japan, but the game only truly sparked into life when the England international stepped onto the pitch.
And how it sparked! Six goals – three for United, three for Gamba Osaka – in 19 minutes followed Rooney’s introduction. When the dust had settled after an incredible turn of events, the Reds had emerged 5-3 winners and booked a place in Sunday’s FIFA Club World Cup final.
Rooney’s first emotion would have been frustration, however, as Gamba Osaka immediately pulled the score back to 2-1 courtesy of striker Masato Yamakazi.
But a minute later Rooney had bagged his first, finishing well after Darren Fletcher’s long ball had sliced open the Japanese defence. It was then Fletcher’s turn to get on the scoreline, heading in Patrice Evra’s cross to complete a neat passing move.
Rooney made it 5-1 on 79 minutes after neat link-up play with Ryan Giggs before Gamba won a penalty when Gary Neville was adjudged to have handled a cross from the left wing. Dead-ball specialist Yasuhito Endo stepped forward to calmly tuck away the kick before Hideo Hashimoto scored the best goal of the game in injury time.
Those inside the Yokohama International Stadium certainly got their money’s worth. The seven goals aside, fans were treated to a full-strength United side.
Large sections of the English press had suggested the FIFA Club World Cup was an unnecessary distraction, but Sir Alex loaded his side with experience, including Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand in the starting XI. Still, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who drew the most cheers from the capacity crowd.
Ronny had United’s first shot on goal, but only after Gamba Osaka midfielder Tomokazu Myojin had tested Edwin van der Sar. Ronaldo then fizzed an effort just wide of the post before van der Sar was called into action again on 13 minutes, saving