Berba brilliant in preseason opener

It cost Manchester United 26 million pounds to buy Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham Hotspur (or steal him away from Man. City, depending on how you look at it), but in games that matter the silky and sometimes sulky Bulgarian has not matched those millions on the scoresheet, notching 21 goals in all competitions in two seasons. He hasn’t satisfied many of the Red Manc supporters, often unable to deliver in the biggest of moments. But when the games don’t mean as much, like Friday’s pre-season friendly against Celtic in Toronto, he’s a magnum-winning Man of the Match.

Berbatov bagged one goal and set up two more, Danny Welbeck’s winner and Tom Cleverley’s deflected third, as United opened their 2010 tour of North America with a 3-1 victory over Celtic in front of an alleged 39,139 at SkyDome (screw the corporate name).

According to my man Ryan Johnston of Sportsnet.ca, the match would have been played at BMO Field if not for the Indy race going on in the vicinity this weekend. Speeding race cars and drunken football supporters don’t mix very well, but it’s a shame they had to play on a pitch that was only laid the day before (the only day free after the CFL’s Argonauts played at home on Wednesday).

I thought the place would be packed with Scotsmen, but instead it was a tiny Toronto Theatre of Dreams, a sea of red with just a few thousand Celtic supporters in the “away end” in one corner. Perhaps Bhoys fans were put off by the fact their squad came into this one fresh off a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the lowly Philadelphia Union, an MLS expansion team.

A banner behind United’s first half goal that read ‘Love United, Hate Glazer’ was gone within 20 minutes and I saw some of Toronto’s finest walking away from the section when I noticed it was gone. There were also more than a few vuvuzelas in the crowd, but they were by no means deafening.

Berbatov played a full 90, unlike Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, subbed off at half and cheered back to the bench already wearing their warm-ups five minutes after the interval. The Bulgarian opened the scoring in the 34th minute, neatly taking down a pass from Mame Biram Diouf and firing it home.

Chris Smalling hauled down Celtic’s Joe Ledley in the box and substitute Georgios Samaras tied it from the penaly spot in the 61st minute, but United won it in the 79th minute when Berbatov broke into the box and squared the ball for Welbeck, who lunged to slot it home.

No idea why the stadium crew felt compelled to play pounding dance music after every goal…do they think North Americans don’t know when to cheer? Pretty weak.

Man. United were dominant throughout most of the match, showing their class with some early great touches by Giggs and an end-to-end run by Berbatov after a Celtic corner.

Berbatov missed wide after breaking into the box in the 29th minute, less than 60 seconds after Gabriel Obertan had also fired past the post for United.

Sir Alex Ferguson bailed out of Thursday night’s presser at the Four Seasons Hotel for a family reunion on Toronto’s outskirts, flying in ahead of his team, who were delayed by bad weather in Chicago. Only Darren Fletcher was ever brought out to face the media masses, or the five (fool)hardy souls who stuck it out through the two-hour wait for five minutes of questions before the team press flak whisked him away. I got smart and went to the bar with Brent and Hadi…no regrets there.

But Ferguson did answer a few questions after this one, talking about the importance to Scottish football of Celtic and other domestic teams fielding homegrown players (you listening, English FA?), Celtic’s match-up with Braga in Champions League qualifying and Berbatov’s top class performance. And when the flak tried to wrap things up before Sir Alex had spoken to the Scottish media, Fergie was quick with the rebuke, saying “He’s Scottish, for chrissake!” Brilliant.

Ian Harrison

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Filed under Premier League, Scottish Premier

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