ANN ARBOR, MICH. – It was billed as possibly being the largest soccer crowd in the history of the United States. And it didn’t disappoint.
In front of 109,318 fans at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., travelers from around the world that had descended on the town that houses the University of Michigan were treated to a spectacle that never had the feel of a pre-season warm-up match. As a part of the Guinness International Champions Cup, Manchester United were 3-1 winners over Real Madrid Saturday, advancing to the Guinness International Champions Cup Final Monday night at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Even though it was said in the days leading up to the match that Cristiano Ronaldo wouldn’t be available for the match, fans still got what they wanted, even if he only played for the final 15 minutes of the match. Ronaldo dazzled when he had the ball at his feet and the cell phone flashes were aplenty with many of the fans getting their very first glimpse in person of the Portuguese star.
It should be said that United fielded a much stronger side than Madrid could have. Players like Fabio Coentrao, Sami Khedira, Raphael Varane, Marcelo and Angel Di Maria were all deemed unavailable for the match. On the other side, it was the likes of Rafael, Chris Smalling and Nani who were the only ones either unavailable or didn’t feature.
From the start, it was United dominating the run of play. Through the first 10 minutes of the match, they were more composed and possessed the ball much better than Madrid. Specifically, the striking partnership of Wayne Rooney and Denny Welbeck, along with the involvement of Juan Mata playing behind them worked really well together.
United were able to strike first on some beautiful build-up play. Antonio Valencia played a ball to Fletcher down the right-hand side, who then used Wayne Rooney for a clever one-two, before a cross fell to Welbeck atop the 18-yard box. But, instead of shooting, he made the extra pass to a wide-open Ashley Young who beat Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas to the near post, making it 1-0.
But, just a few minutes later halfway through the first half, Gareth Bale began what would turn out to be a day-long clinic on United defender Michael Keane, beating him around the edge with pure speed and drawing a penalty just on the inside of the box. Bale stepped up and made United goalkeeper David De Gea guess the wrong way, easily converting to level things 1-1.