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Manchester United down Celtic in tour opener

TORONTO – Dimitar Berbatov scored a goal and set up two more as Manchester United opened their North American tour on a strong note with a 3-1 victory over Scottish giants Celtic FC at Rogers Centre on Friday night.

Wayne Rooney may not have traveled for the English side, but fans still were treated to a world-class performance by the Bulgarian Berbatov, who scored 12 times for the English Premier League runners-up last year.

Berbatov gave Manchester United the lead on a stellar goal and then set up Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley in the second half to make the crowd of 39,139 forget about Rooney, who had a forgettable World Cup for England.

The Red Devils next will travel to face the Philadelphia Union and Kansas City Wizards before meeting the MLS All-Stars in Houston on July 28.

Although it was billed as a friendly, Friday's match was anything but, with both teams playing with intensity befitting a clash between two of the most storied clubs in British football. 

The pace was classic EPL with great long balls, clever passing and lightning-quick forays, especially by Berbatov and Mame Biram Diouf, who formed a dangerous combination up front for the Red Devils. The duo helped give Manchester United the lead in the 34th minute.

Berbatov took a centering pass from Diouf, met the ball with his right leg and fired a left-footed shot in the opposite corner of the goal defended by Celtic goalkeeper Andreas Hinkler.

The strike drew loud cheers from the pro-United crowd. Toronto is a hotbed of support for Manchester United and it showed at Rogers Centre, where fans clad in all recent incarnations of the club’s jerseys were out in big numbers. They reserved their loudest cheers before the game for midfielders Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes and manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson and Celtic manager Neil Lennon emptied their benches in the second half.

Giorgios Samaras, who played for Greece at the World Cup, came on for Celtic and helped the Scottish Premier League runners-up level the score in the 61st minute on a penalty.

United defender Chris Smalling pulled down Marc Crosas in the penalty area, drawing a caution and a penalty from Canadian referee Sliviu Petrescu. Samaras stepped up to calmly drive home the equalizer into the top right corner past United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

It was all United after that, with Berbatov setting up Welbeck for an easy finish in the 79th minute and then feeding Cleverley, who pushed the ball forward before driving a shot that deflected off a defender by Hinkel in the 86th minute.

Manchester United now head to Philadelphia where they’ll take on the expansion Union at Lincoln Financial field. Celtic, who lost to the Union on Wednesday, will head to Seattle to face the Sounders at Qwest Field on Saturday.