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Man United fever grips South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, July 17 – Manchester United fever is sweeping South Africa with tickets selling fast for a two-match tour despite the absence of England star Wayne Rooney and many other first choices.

The Rio Ferdinand-skippered Red Devils were scheduled to arrive in Indian Ocean city Durban late Monday ahead of a midweek friendly with AmaZulu and another against Ajax Cape Town this weekend.

Rooney, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck (England), Patrice Evra (France) and Nani (Portugal) are resting after starting their close-season breaks late because of Euro 2012 commitments.

Veteran Ryan Giggs and Tom Cleverly (Great Britain) and David De Gea (Spain) are also absent as they prepare for the football tournament at the London Olympic Games.

Injuries and sickness rule out Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Darren Fletcher, leaving legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson with just a few instantly recognisable names like Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez on tour.

The lack of many first-choice Red Devils has had no effect at the box office with the organisers saying only a few thousand higher-price tickets are available for the AmaZulu match at Moses Mabhida Stadium Wednesday.

A spokesman said all 11,000 tickets for a Tuesday training session have also been snapped up in a country where English Premier League football enjoys a passionate following with many games broadcast live.

Before leaving England centre-back Ferdinand dismissed suggestions that depleted United might struggle: “We do not want to lose a game — it is as simple as that. At United we want to win every game.”

A lot of attention will focus on major close-season signing Shinji Kagawa from Japan, who arrived at Old Trafford last month after several successful seasons with Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund, who he helped win the domestic double last season and the title the season before.

South Africa-born former United goalkeeper Gary Bailey, who analyses Premier League matches for the Johannesburg-based SuperSport channel, is not surprised by the buzz surrounding the visit.

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“The country always becomes very excited when United come on a pre-season tour,” Bailey told the Manchester club website. “There is a sense of pride about the club.

“The AmaZulu game is on Nelson Mandela Day, which is an enormous day on the South African calendar. It is great that United are playing on such a special day.”

Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, turns 94 Wednesday. He used to attend major football fixtures, but frail health has prevented him doing so for some time.

AmaZulu are the most popular South African Premiership club in Durban with Swede Roger Palmgren the coach and Zimbabwe goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini the captain of a side that finished seventh in the 16-club national league last season.

After facing Ajax Saturday at Cape Town Stadium, United head for China and a game against Shanghai Shenhua before returning to Europe for warm-ups fixtures with Valerenga in Olso, Barcelona in Gothenburg and Hanover 96 in Germany.

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