Thu, Jul 24, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Man Utd make light work of Celtic

AP , SEATTLE

Ruud van Nistelrooy celebrates putting Manchester United 1-0 up against Celtic during their pre-season friendly match at the Seahawks Stadium, Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

In its first game without superstar David Beckham, Manchester United beat Glasgow Celtic 4-0 on Tuesday behind goals by Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ryan Giggs, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and David Bellion.

"Our forward play, especially in the first half, caused them a lot of problems," Manchester United defender Philip Neville said. "And the crowd really lifted us in a big way."

The eight-time Premier League champions opened their four-game US tour by decisively handling their Scottish League rivals. The effort was sure to keep Manchester United's legion of 53 million worldwide fans as happy as the team's big-money American sponsors.

Organizers hope the seven-city tour will boost the profile of European soccer in the US.

"I'm not sure `conquer' is the right word," Manchester coach Alex Ferguson said. "I think we'd like to explore the country, and make people more aware about Manchester United."

The Red Devils play three more games, with the next one Sunday in Los Angeles against Club America of Mexico.

"You're up against quite a tradition here with American football, baseball and basketball," Ferguson said. "It's not easy to overcome that, but there's no reason why soccer can't be a part of American sports."

And while American fans are less familiar with other Manchester stars like van Nistelrooy, the Red Devils didn't miss Beckham, who was sold last month to Real Madrid for US$39.4 million.

The talent gap between the teams became apparent before halftime, when Manchester led 3-0.

"We were well-beaten by a very, very good side," Celtic coach Martin O'Neill said. "My view is that they are vying with Real Madrid to be the best team in Europe."

The rout began in the seventh minute, when van Nistelrooy took a centering pass from Solskjaer, fought off defender Stanislav Varga and put the ball into the right corner off the hands of Celtic goalkeeper Magnus Hedman.

Van Nistelrooy struck again in the 28th minute, drawing three defenders and Hedman as he sprinted in from the right. He centered to Ryan Giggs, who was trailing on the play and kicked it in easily for a 2-0 lead.

In the 39th minute, Solskjaer took a pass from Gary Neville and kicked the ball into the middle of the goal to make it 3-0.

Bellion, in his first game with Manchester since signing in the offseason, scored in the 72nd minute, when Paul Scholes tapped a pass to him in the box and Bellion beat reserve goal keeper Robert Douglas on a neat play that brought the near-capacity crowd of 66,722 fans to its feet. The attendance was a record for one-year-old Seahawks Stadium, with only a few end zone sections noticeably sparse.

The fans savored the spectacle, roaring when the teams came onto the field and again for each goal.

They turned the stadium into a giant bowl of twinkling flashbulbs every time a player fired a free kick.

"I was surprised by the support," van Nistelrooy said. "You don't expect that in America. It was a great atmosphere."

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