Berba to the rescue
MANCHESTER United beat Amazulu 1-0 yesterday in a match which, even as the first game in pre-season, seldom entertained the predominantly red-wearing Moses Mabhida stadium crowd.
Were it not for Dimitar Berbatov's majestic skills, fans might have had doubts about whether they were watching England's most successful club. The absence of stars Wayne Rooney and Nani was keenly felt.
United, as expected, bossed possession and created the best chances in the opening quarter of the game.
Amazulu on the other hand were static once they got past the halfway line on attack, with United closing every inch of available space in the middle until Usuthu surrendered the ball.
Javier Hernandez should have put the tourists 1-0 up as early as the second minute of play but he skewed his shot wide with the net open after Federico Macheda's shot was parried to his feet.
Berbatov, perhaps playing one of his last games in the club's colours after reportedly stating his intention to leave, didn't look fazed by the pleas of a passionate supporter begging him not to go.
The Bulgarian relished his playmaker role in midfield, just behind strikers Macheda and Hernandez, and regularly pumped in deadly accurate passes behind the Amazulu defence.
In the 20th minute, one of Berbatov's grass-cutters found Macheda in space and the 20-year-old Italian wasted little time in opening the scoring.
Tsweu Mokoro at right back and Marc van Heerden at left back had workmen-like shifts trying to contain the United attacking duo plus the forward advances of the skillful 19-year-old Jesse Lingard.
Indeed, Amazulu got over their nervous start and created two takeable chances on either side of Macheda's goal.
The first fell to striker Goodman Dlamini in the 17th minute but he blasted high over the bar after latching onto a deft Ayanda Dlamini pass outside the box.
In the 39th minute, with Amazulu enjoying time in possession, Ayanda Dlamini popped behind Rio Ferdinand in defence only to hook his shot wide of Anders Lindegaard's goal.
Macheda almost made them pay for that miss five minutes later but he, too, pulled his shot wide.
Amazulu had done well to trail only by a single goal at half-time.
Both teams started the second half with an appetite for goal. Soon after the restart Berbatov had a shot cleared off the line by Van Heerden. Within a minute, Amazulu launched a counter-attack during which Ayanda Dlamini, in space, forced a great save from Lindegaard.
From then on chances flowed for Amazulu as the home side started enjoying a rich vein of possession and should have equalised when substitute Josef Lekata found space in the United six-yard box. His downward header, however, was superbly kept out by Lindegaard.
Both coaches, using the pre-season friendly to test the depth of their squads, rung the changes in the second half.
This resulted in a drop in intensity and a congested midfield.
As the game mellowed towards the full-time whistle, Lekata skied a brilliant Van Heerden cross and wasted a chance for his side to draw level.
Van Heerden tried to sneak in a left-footed freekick but it drifted wide - and with it went Amazulu's hope of a historic result.