Most of Manchester United's big names return to training tomorrow and, judging by the evidence of yesterday's Vodacom Challenge final against the Kaizer Chiefs, few will be anxious about their first-team places. Eye-catching performances were largely conspicuous by their absence at Loftus Versfeld as United lost in a penalty shoot-out.
Kieran Richardson was a particular disappointment, earning the ire of Sir Alex Ferguson for failing to take chances or produce an accurate final ball. With few chances created, it was no surprise spot-kicks were needed, and misses from Ben Foster and Chris Eagles were decisive.
Ferguson was, though, pleased with the tour. "This has been a great experience for some of our players. They have come out here, been part of the first-team squad and worked really hard. Of the 19 players I had on this trip, 15 could play for the next 10 years. I hope they will do that at Manchester United."
One who could be doing so sooner than expected is the young goalkeeper Foster, who had been expected to return to Watford where he has been on loan. However, with a bid for West Brom's Tomasz Kuszczak now rejected, Ferguson said: "We have to think about keeping Ben because there has been no progress with Kuszczak. West Brom have turned down our offer, so it has to be a consideration that Ben stays with us."
In an otherwise drab opening period, most of the notable moments involved Dong Fangzhou. Sir Alex Ferguson said last week that the 20-year-old should be eligible for a UK work permit in December, which would allow him to join United permanently. Until the red tape is sorted out, Dong will stay at Royal Antwerp, so yesterday was his last start in a red shirt for a few months.
The former Dalian Shide striker was clearly eager to make an impact but he failed to take any of the four chances which came his way inside the opening half hour. His first came through a long punt from Luke Steele in goal. The ball bounced kindly inside the box, but Dong's shot was blocked. A Patrice Evra cross landed at his feet shortly afterwards but his shot was blocked. In addition, he was unable to steer a Phil Bardsley pass goalward from a tight angle and he missed again when Paul Scholes' chipped pass sent him clear.
Dong's time may yet come, but big things are predicted for Giuseppe Rossi, whom Ferguson has suggested could help fill the void should Ruud van Nistelrooy depart. Yet, for the second game running, Rossi made little impact, raising doubts over his suitability as a replacement for the Dutchman.