In what was more a parade of new fashion than a show of new talent, Alex Ferguson's men sported the latest red top from their seemingly infinite Umbro collection. Their play, however, was not quite as bright as Ajax managed in shirts of the same hue the Premiership champions wore when they suffered their last defeat on English soil.
Manchester United, beaten 3-0 by Internazionale in Milan on Wednesday, were not exactly taken to the cleaners by their rivals for the European Cup, but Ajax shaded the honours, and the victory, in a less than colourful encounter between two under-strength teams. It was fittingly settled, five minutes from time, by one of the new graduates from the Ajax academy.
Kiki Musampa showed in his fourth game at senior level that Louis Van Gaal possesses a home-made replacement in the unlikely event of Patrick Kluivert being allowed to depart for Old Trafford, Ewood Park or somewhere else where the coffers overflow.
A knee injury kept Kluivert on the sidelines and, in his absence, the 19-year-old Musampa showed his class - not least when turning the Norwegian international defender Ronny Johnsen before shooting through Peter Schmeichel's legs for the winning goal.
Johnsen, Ferguson's pounds 1.25m signing from Besiktas, was the only new recruit in Manchester United's team, Jordi Cruyff's transfer from Barcelona being subject to rubber-stamping and Karel Poborsky still awaiting a work permit. With Ryan Giggs injured and Andy Cole in his sick bed, Ferguson's side lacked the spark to bring Eric Cantona to life. Paul Scholes, for all his industry, did not look the kind of attacking force that Ajax clearly have in Musampa, though he may get another chance in the Charity Shield against Newcastle at Wembley on Sunday.
Ajax found the depletion of their side a lesser handicap. They lined up with only five players who started the European Cup final in May, but the probing of 19-year-old Nordin Wooter and the penalty-box scheming of Musampa made them look anything but half-strength, if not quite at their fluent best, in the first-half. A crude Roy Keane challenge, which earned a yellow card, and a deflection off Schmeichel prevented Musampa opening the scoring before Frank de Boer netted a thunderbolt free-kick from 30 yards with 33 minutes on the clock.
It took United six minutes longer to trouble Edwin van der Sar in the Trent End goal, and even then Cantona's header from Scholes' precise left- wing cross lacked the power and accuracy it needed to beat Holland's Euro 96 keeper. Though the threat posed by Musampa subsided in the early stages of the second half, Ferguson was obliged to haul off Keane, on the advice of referee David Elleray, and replace him with Nicky Butt on the hour, after another robust challenge by the Irishman.
Keane responded to the barracking of his former home crowd by pulling off his shirt in defiance as he headed down the tunnel. "I thought the referee showed common sense," Ferguson said later. "Roy was suspended because of a pre-season booking last year. We didn't want the same thing to happen again."
With 12 minutes left, Manchester United finally broke through - courtesy of their longest-serving player. Cantona headed down a long kick by Schmeichel and David Beckham squared the ball to Brian McClair, whose finish was just strong enough to beat Van der Sar. Musampa's late winner deprived McClair and his colleagues of a penalty shoot-out but it was not the final word. Danny Blind took exception when Paul Scholes crashed to the ground for what looked like a borderline penalty decision. Fists were raised in anger but Mr Elleray drew a diplomatic veil by blowing his whistle for full time.
In the other game between Nottingham Forest and Chelsea, just when he thought it was safe to step up to the penalty spot, Stuart Pearce's Turin nightmare returned to haunt him. Successful in Euro 96 shoot-outs against Spain and Germany, the Forest captain watched his effort saved by Dimitri Kharin at the end of the goalless game. It was Kharin's save from Scot Gemmill, however, which clinched Chelsea a place in today's final against Ajax on a 4-3 count, Mark Crossley having saved Mark Nicholls' kick. Ruud Gullit again played without the injured Gianluca Vialli in a match even less eventful than the uninspiring opener.
Manchester Utd: Schmeichel; G Neville, Irwin, May (P Neville, 70), Keane (Butt, 59), Johnsen, Cantona, Beckham, McClair, Scholes, Sharpe.
Ajax: Van der Sar; Marcio Santos, Blind, Scholten, F de Boer, Juan, R de Boer (Louhenapessy, 75), Witschge, Musampa, Wooter, Turpijn (Van Den Bergh, 45).
Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Haland, Pearce, Cooper, Jerkan, Bart-Williams, Lyttle (Gemmill, 62), Woan, Saunders (Roy, h-t), Campbell, Allen.
Chelsea: Kharin; Petrescu, Phelan (Myers, h-t), Johnsen, Leboeuf, Clarke, Spencer (Nichols, 62), Di Matteo, Burley (Morris, 73), Hughes, Wise.Reuse content