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Friday, November 6, 2009

Fan dismay as Man United cancels

THE decision by Manchester United to cancel one of the most eagerly awaited sporting contests in Indonesia — its face-off with a team of local all-star soccer players — will be a massive blow to the Indonesian psyche, according to a regional sporting organiser.

The English champions — who are regarded as the biggest brand in world sports — were due to play in Jakarta tomorrow night in front of a sell-out 80,000 crowd but cancelled due to security fears.

In a blow to Australian Man United fans, Melbourne Victory's opportunistic bid in the wake of the blasts to lure the team to Etihad Stadium for a match tomorrow night has failed.

But disappointment here will be nothing compared with the dejection felt by millions of Indonesian soccer fans, according to Geoffrey Gold, an Australian who helps organise sporting tours to the region.

"This match carried a huge amount of significance. The fact that Manchester United, the biggest side in the world, felt that Indonesia was important enough to visit was taken as a sign of how the country had developed," said Mr Gold of Sports Dynamics Asia. "Indonesia is football mad and at least half of the soccer fans support Man United. These bombings almost seem to be a way of punishing the ordinary people who were looking forward to this."

The match was of such importance that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono mentioned it in a speech to the nation on Friday night.

Manchester United — which kicked off its Asian tour in Kuala Lumpur last night — had been booked to stay at the devastated Ritz-Carlton tonight.

Team manager Sir Alex Ferguson told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur: "We are obviously shocked but, with regard to the safety of our players, staff and fans, there was no other way we could have looked at (this)."

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