It was less a contest and more a celebration – of United’s enduring Irish connection, of unerring finishing in front of goal and of a magnificent new sporting structure – as United romped to a 7-1 win against a League of Ireland XI in Dublin.
Wayne Rooney made his long-awaited club return but it was goals from Ji-sung Park (2), Michael Owen, Javier Hernandez, Antonio Valencia, Jonny Evans and Nani that stole the show.
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.
Rooney wasted a golden chance on 23 minutes – blazing over with the goal at his mercy – but it hardly mattered. Moments later Michael Owen marked his comeback with a deliciously dinked goal after a clever first touch and good work down the left by Park and Jonny Evans. With the season proper in full swing, the goal would have warranted a celebration of lip-smacking proportions. But with no Gary Neville in Dublin and the match a mere pre-season friendly, the no.7 just raised an arm and flashed a cheeky smile.
A somersault throw-in by League of Ireland’s Ryan Guy drew a rousing cheer from the Aviva crowd before Michael Carrick