Thursday, December 25, 2008

Manchester United

Manchester United arrives in Japan
TOKYO — Manchester United arrived in Japan for the Club World Cup on Monday, receiving a welcome befitting one of the world’s richest and best known football clubs.

An enthusiastic group of Japanese fans greeted the team at Narita Airport hoping to catch a glimpse of star players Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, and Cristiano Ronaldo, who stopped to sign autographs for fans before boarding a shuttle bus to Yokohama.

United enters the tournament in the semifinals stage and will play Japan’s Gamba Osaka at Yokohama on Thursday. Asian champions Gamba defeated Australia’s Adelaide United 1-0 on Sunday to set up a dream match with the English powerhouse.

United, heavily favored to win the trophy here, was held to a scoreless draw against Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday before embarking on the 12-hour flight to Japan.

The winner of Thursday’s match advances to the Dec 21 final, where it will meet the winner of Wednesday’s other semifinal between Mexico’s Pachuca and South American champion Liga de Quito of Ecuador.

Alex Ferguson’s squad qualified for the Club World Cup in May after beating fellow English side Chelsea in a penalty shootout in the UEFA Champions League final at Moscow.

The trip to Japan comes at a busy time of the season for United, which is six points behind Premier League leader Liverpool.

United already has a huge following in Japan and the rest of Asia. The team toured the region in 2007 playing against teams in Japan, South Korea and China.

The last time a team from the English Premier League played in the Club World Cup was in 2005 when Liverpool lost 1-0 in the final to Brazil’s Sao Paulo.

This is United’s second appearance in the expanded Club World Cup, after having controversially sat out the English F.A. Cup in 2000 to participate.

The tournament features the club champions from football’s six continental confederations and is an extension of the former Intercontinental Cup contested by European and South American champion clubs. AC Milan won last year’s tournament, beating Boca Juniors 4-2 in the final.

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