Michael Owen an instant hit for Man United but Ben Foster fouls up
20 July 2009 08:40
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Pre-season tours have long since ceased to have much to do with the football for England’s biggest clubs.
If they did, then the likes of Manchester United would not ask their players and fans to travel halfway around the world to places with records of terrorism.
Yet as Sir Alex Ferguson turns his attentions from the horror of the Jakarta hotel bombings and back to his team’s Barclays Premier League preparations, he will be hoping for more of the plus-points shown in his side’s 3-2 tour win over Malaysia on Saturday — and less of the negatives.
Off the mark: Owen scores as the Malaysia keeper looks on helplessly
The sight of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen in the same club squad for the first time will have heartened the United manager as he looks to fill the holes created by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid.
Both managed to score at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, even if they weren’t on the pitch at the same time.
However, the disconcerting sight of reserve goalkeeper Ben Foster playing as though he was wearing a blindfold will not have done much for the manager’s mood as he wrestles with the problem of how eventually to replace Edwin van der Sar.
Neither issue will surprise United followers.
Rooney is such an intelligent and selfless player that he could form a partnership with just about anyone.
Owen has always been a committed team man, too, so there is no reason why the partnership that once looked so promising for England should not prove successful at Old Trafford.
Speaking after the game, Rooney said: ‘I’ve played with Michael for England many times so I know him well.
‘He looked really sharp in training, he’s working very hard and you could see by the way all the lads celebrated with him how pleased they were for him when he scored. The move will give him a new lease of life.
‘Over the last couple of years he’s had some criticism but it would have been difficult for any player to score in the Newcastle team he was in last season.
Middle man: Rooney hopes to be employed as a central striker in the forthcoming season
'I’m sure he will get goals and I’m looking forward to playing with him.
‘With Cristiano leaving it does leave a huge hole when it comes to goals and that’s why it’s important the likes of myself, Berba [Dimitar Berbatov] and Michael chip in.’
Rooney was impressive in the oppressive heat of the Malaysian capital.
United had arrived in Asia only 30 hours previously but he quickly acclimatised and ran the game in the first half, scoring from close range in the ninth minute and playing Nani in superbly for the second just before the half-hour.
Owen eventually confirmed victory for United with a typically instinctive goal five minutes from time, but in between it all threatened to go wrong as Van der Sar was beaten from distance by Mohammed Amri Yahyah just before half-time and then his replacement, Foster, allowed a back-pass to bounce over his foot in the 52nd minute, setting up Yahyah for his second.
Perhaps Foster was jet-lagged. But it was an unfortunate moment for a keeper attempting to establish himself as a genuine long-term replacement for Van der Sar.
Ferguson said: ‘That was his first game for three or four months. It’s a challenge for him to take the position off Edwin, who is probably one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time.
‘It’s important for him that he now gets a long run without injury.’
United goalkeeper Ben Foster's fumbles lets in Mohammed Amri Yahyah
The same could be said about Owen.
With Carlos Tevez settling in at Manchester City and Ronaldo ensconced in Spain, much will be asked of Owen and Rooney.
It can only be hoped that Ferguson will at least play the latter in his right position — through the middle.
Rooney added: ‘We haven’t spoken about it but I’m sure that is where I’ll play.
'Everyone knows it’s my best position and hopefully that’s where I’ll play.
‘Of course, I enjoy that position more than being out on the flanks — it’s less work, you get more chances to score and as a forward that’s what you want, so I’m really happy if I play there.’
After the cancellation of United’s visit to Jakarta, they will instead return to the same stadium on Monday to play Saturday’s opposition again.
The tour promoters hilariously tried to dress tonight’s opposition up as a ‘Malaysian Selection’, only to admit when pressed that the team would actually be picked from the very same squad of players.
On a more serious note, United’s decision — the correct one — not to travel to Indonesia continues to cause upset in Jakarta.
United chief executive David Gill has vowed to make amends but has so far been typically vague on the matter. One possibility is that an Indonesian XI could be invited to Old Trafford for a game some time in the future.
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