Manchester United are a massively popular team all over the world and on their pre-season tour of South Africa they have been enjoying the carnival atmosphere and warm reception they have received. The United players were overwhelmed by the welcome from tens of thousands of fanatical South African United fans in Cape Town on their arrival in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ host country for their three-game pre-season tour this week. The Red Devils have hundreds of thousands of fanatical South African fans, especially in Cape Town, the hometown of Quinton Fortune, who spent seven years with Manchester United between 1999 and 2006.
United have been regular visitors to South Africa and last toured the country two years ago. After enjoying that tour immensely, manager Sir Alex Ferguson promised that his team would return.
The Scot was true to his word and has brought a formidable squad to the southern hemisphere containing the likes of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand for their games against South Africa's biggest teams Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. "," said Ferguson. "We're also glad that playing Manchester United can be seen as a platform for these sides."
With the Scot's legendary competitive streak, he will no doubt be looking to avenge the Vodacom Challenge final defeat his team suffered at the hands of Kaizer Chiefs in 2006. With his team surprised by the South African skill and physical approach of their South African opponents, Ferguson said: "We expect difficult games, but it is important that we work on pre-season fitness, sharpness and tempo."
Fletcher hails fans
Midfielder Darren Fletcher was on the tour in 2006 and he is happy to be back. "Of course, what makes it special is the atmosphere and the fans, the way they love Manchester United," he said. "The reception we got was fantastic and the players really appreciate that. To know that we bring so much is great and we want to try and give something back to the fans here. The United fans, along with the local teams' fans, create a great atmosphere. It is very different to playing back home. It's a carnival atmosphere."
Writing on his personal blog, United defender Nemanja Vidic said the players were exhausted after a long flight to South Africa following their friendly match against Aberdeen last week, but were buoyed by seeing the throngs of United fans on hand to welcome them on their arrival. "It's been a very tiring couple of days, but the welcome we received at Cape Town Airport was fantastic," wrote Vidic. "The players were tired after a long flight, but seeing everyone there to greet us was unbelievable. It is my first time in South Africa and I am very glad to be here. I had heard a lot about the country from some of the lads, but to see it with my own eyes was really special."
That warm welcome did not extend to United's players in their first game at Newlands Stadium on Saturday, with Ferguson's men having to come from behind to snatch a 1-1 draw in a hard-fought encounter in front of over 40,000 fans, who mostly supported United. While United were short of match practice and consequently below their best, they gave their fans a sense of their undoubted pedigree by parading their UEFA Champions League and English Premiership trophies prior to the match. "It was very competitive, particularly in the second half - they are a very good side and there were a few tasty tackles. But that's the kind of game we need," said Ferguson at the end of the 90 minutes.
United meet Orlando Pirates in another FIFA World Cup host city, Durban on Tuesday and then head for the final match of their tour at Loftus Versfeld in the country's capital Tshwane/Pretoria on Saturday.