They call these preseason matchups “friendlies,” but you can bet this game has added importance for Ajax Cape Town, who is trying to prove that South Africa can hang with the best soccer that Europe has to offer. This Saturday, Cape Town, South Africa will host Manchester United, who have collected 19 English Premier League championships, for the first time since 2008.
This game is part of Manchester United’s two-game tour of South Africa. Their visit to Cape Town will be the city's biggest soccer event since the 2010 FIFA World Cup. For the first time since the World Cup, Cape Town will be opening up their “Fan Walk,” a multi-block pedestrian path studded with entertainment hubs such as nightclubs, bars, restaurants and hotels.
While Cape Town appears to be pulling out all the stops, United has opted against playing all of their starters. Manchester United’s two games in South Africa are part of a larger, six-game tour that spreads into Asia before coming back to Europe for a premier matchup with FC Barcelona. The Red Devils may have their sights set on their international rivals from Spain, thus overlooking the friendlies in-between.
Regardless, Ajax is planning on playing in front of a sell-out crowd. Manchester United, who Forbes recently named the most valuable sports team, has a worldwide following. Fans will pack the stadium to see them play no matter who trots out for the starting lineup.
Where: Cape Town Stadium, Green Point, Cape Town, South Africa
When: Saturday, July 21, 9:00 AM ET
United’s Keys to Victory
According to France 24 International News, Manchester United will be playing without many first-teamers, including arguably their best star Wayne Rooney. In addition to Rooney, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Patrice Evra and Nani will rest after finishing up the 2012 Euro Cup a few weeks ago.
According to the report, Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Darren Fletcher will also sit out due to injury or sickness. That does not even include Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverly and David De Gea, who will also miss the tour in order to prepare for the 2012 Olympic games.
Manchester United may be fielding an unrecognizable team, but they are still the best soccer club in the world. They have talent and depth that other teams could only dream of having. They will rely heavily on their role players and reserves to come up big and produce.
They will also have the advantage of playing in front of thousands of their own fans, despite being hundreds of miles away from home. If the Red Devils can thrive off the energy and excitement of playing in South Africa’s largest soccer event since the World Cup, they will be able to leave Cape Town with a win.
Ajax’s Keys to Victory
The Urban Warriors will have no trouble getting up for the game. They have the advantage of playing at home, and they know that any time Manchester United comes to town, it is not your average friendly.
Cape Town will be lively in the days leading up to the match. With Fan Walk open for the first time in two years, tourists and soccer enthusiasts will flood the city for a chance to enjoy the nightlife and witness one of soccer’s all-time greatest teams take the field.
The electricity will be potent. While this could end up being a distraction, the Cape Town players should be fine as long as they are able to stay focused. With so much hype for a friendly, it’s easy to lose sight of the objective. However, once they step onto the field, the purpose should easily come into view.
For some players on the Warrior’s roster, this will be the largest crowd they have ever played in front of. It will be an excellent opportunity for those players to show what they are actually made of. Manchester United will be fielding a depleted starting lineup, and if Ajax Cape Town can keep focus, they should be able to top one of England’s best teams.
Added Incentive to Tune In
According to CapeTownMagazine.com, the city of Cape Town is attempting to break a Guinness World Record for number of people singing collectively in one place. They plan on doing this by getting everyone in the stadium to sing “Happy Birthday” to Nelson Mandela, who will be celebrating his 94th birthday.
Mandela served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first South African president to be chosen in a fully democratic election. He has won many awards for his work as an activist, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.
If the friendly alone is not enough to get you to tune in, perhaps a chance to witness a Guinness World Record being made while one of South Africa’s greatest leaders is honored will act as an added incentive.
Ajax Cape Town will be able to beat Manchester United by a score of 4-2. The fans will care more about witnessing some top-tier soccer in a thrilling atmosphere rather than a certain outcome, and they will not be let down.
Ultimately, Manchester United is the better team, but Ajax Cape Town will be able to take advantage of their missing stars and pull out a win.