Those opponents are followed by Brazilian side Vasco da Gama (not champions, but in the competition for economic reasons) on the Saturday and Oceania champions South Melbourne three days later. The winners of each of two four-team groups meet in the final on Friday, 14 January; no one is predicting anything but a United-Real Madrid pairing.
The United manager, initially sceptical about the competition, which has precluded his team from this season's FA Cup and will severely interrupt their League programme, admitted that the possibility of bringing the championship to England was "a huge incentive to us. The important thing is that we're in the next one because we won [the Toyota Cup] in Tokyo. It won't be next summer, but the following one and I think it will be in the country of whoever wins. They're talking about a pre-season tournament, so instead of having friendlies you'd be playing in this. It's not definite yet, but that's the way it's being presented to us".
He added: "At first, I couldn't see any excitement about the tournament, but I think we've got to get on board. I'm warming to it, I must admit. I was surprisingly pleased by the attitude of Palmeiras in Tokyo and that was a great experience." He believes that Fifa will invest the tournament with the necessary prestige and suggested, a touch ruefully: "We've sacrificed the opportunity to retain the FA Cup to go there, so we need to win it, otherwise we're going to come back as wallies, slaughtered by you people."
While his own temperature is rising at the prospect, he hopes that the one in Brazil won't affect his players. "The one thing I'm apprehensive about is the heat," he said. "It's not going to be easy."
Neither are Bradford today at Old Trafford and certainly not Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. "Bradford have possibly come to terms with the Premiership while Sunderland's going to be a massive game up there. I'm really looking forward to it. What Reidie's [Peter Reid] done doesn't surprise me. They were always my dark horses from the start of the season."
Lee Sharpe returns for Bradford, to a chorus of suggestions that the former England man could provide the solution to Kevin Keegan's left side of midfield conundrum. "Sharpie's a brilliant crosser of the ball, and always decent for a goal. I wouldn't discount him for England," said Ferguson.Reuse content