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Owen lifts Man United over Barca

WASHINGTON, DC, July 31 – Michael Owen scored in the 76th minute to lift Manchester United to a 2-1 victory over Barcelona in a friendly football match that reprised their clash in the Champions League final.

Nani on Saturday opened the scoring in the 22nd minute for English Premier League champions Manchester United, who were dominated 3-1 by the Spanish giants in the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley in May.

Thanks to the stature of the clubs, FedEx Field in suburban Washington — home of the NFL’s Redskins — drew a crowd of 81,807, the largest ever for a football match in the Washington DC area.

Tom Cleverley set up Owen’s goal, intercepting Sergio Busquets’ pass intended for Seydou Keita and racing toward the goal before finding Owen, who lofted the ball over Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes.

Six minutes earlier Thiago Alcantara had equalized, blasting into the top corner of the goal after winger Carlos Carmona had cut inside and slotted a pass through.

The victory completed a perfect US tour for Manchester United, who return to England after five victories in their five friendlies.

“Tonight wasn’t a do-or-die situation,” United assistant coach Mick Phelan stressed. “It was important that the players we put out on the pitch understand what it takes to play against an exceptional team.

“We have some very good young players out there and (they) proudly conducted themselves to a high standard.”

Barcelona, who are without two-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi as well as Daniel Alves, Javier Mascherano and Alexis Sanchez for their US tour, travel to Miami on Sunday to face Mexico’s Chivas Guadalajara in the second match of their North American pre-season tour.

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“The confidence is huge,” Guardiola said of Barcelona’s outlook on the Spanish season, which begins in late August. “It’s impossible to have more confidence in these players.

“It’s impossible because they’ve shown me many, many times the quality they are.”

Even with the notable absentees, Barcelona controlled the ball for long stretches.

But it was Nani who broke through to open the scoring, after Danny Welbeck broke from the back to set up the goal, with Nani giving Valdes little chance to make a save.

Although Barcelona continued to control possession, United’s defence dealt ably with the constant pressure and Barcelona couldn’t find another equalizer.

Thiago came close with a mid-range shot in the 89th, and Owen had a chance to add another goal in the first minute of injury time after a cross from Gabriel Obertan, but fired over the bar.

Thousands of spectators arrived early and gave the match a festive feel.

Chants of “Barca! Barca! Barca!” rang out from before kickoff, but United manager Sir Alex Ferguson reckoned support was about equally divided.

Once again on this North American tour, Ferguson was impressed by the atmosphere.

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“It’s quite possible it was 50-50 in terms of the fans for (Barcelona) and ourselves, and they’re all mixed together,” said Ferguson, whose side is now looking toward the Community Shield match on August 7 and their Premier League opener on August 14.

“It’s a fantastic sight to see that. It gives you hope that the game is bereft of some of the things that have happened in the past.”

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