THE fixtures computer gave Newcastle United fans one more reason to cheer on England at this summer’s World Cup after it sent the Magpies to Manchester United’s Old Trafford on the opening game of the season.
The further the Three Lions progress at the World Cup, the greater the chances of Newcastle being spared a meeting with two regular thorns in their side, Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick.
Sir Alex Ferguson has promised his World Cup players will be given four weeks off after being knocked out of the competition. That means anyone reaching the final would not be due back in training until August 8 – a week before the Premier League season begins. It is hard to imagine any player being match-fit in that time.
Any team reaching the semi-finals would only return home a day earlier thanks to the pointless exercise that is the third-place play-off. France’s Patrice Evra, Serbia’s Nemanja Vidic, South Korea’s Park Ji-Sung and Mexico’s Javier Hernandez are also in action in South Africa.
Ferguson’s diktat could also delay the debut of any summer signing who plays in the latter stages of the tournament.
“We will be giving all of the players who are involved (in the World Cup) a 28-day rest after the last game,” Ferguson promised in May. “We will begin the season without them. That is the plan.”
Even if England do worse than expected in South Africa, Rooney and Carrick could still be hard pressed to face Chris Hughton’s (pictured left) side if Ferguson keeps his word.
Rooney has scored nine goals against Newcastle for Manchester United, while playing against North East opposition seems to bring the best out of Wallsend-born Carrick, another member of England’s squad.
This year’s meeting will be the third time since the turn of the century Newcastle have opened a Premier
League campaign at Old Trafford. Their last top-flight campaign began there, a 1-1 draw with the then-champions raising hopes that were ultimately dashed.
Jonás Gutiérrez made an encouraging debut and Obafemi Martins opened the scoring in a 1-1 draw but the campaign ended in relegation at Villa Park.
In 2000 the hosts were 2-0 winners, Newcastle players past and future Andy Cole and Ronny Johnsen the scorers.
Although the Red Devils are generally slow starters, they are undefeated in six August Premier League meetings with the Magpies, drawing twice. Newcastle’s first September home game is against Championship play-off winners Blackpool, who finished 32 points behind them last season and they finish against at home to another newly-promoted side, West Bromwich Albion.
The fans even have the rare treat of a Boxing Day game at St James’ Park, against Manchester City. The derbies with Sunderland are on October 30 (home) and January 15 (away).
All games are subject to the whims of the television schedulers and the Manchester United game looks a strong candidate to be moved from its provisional August 14 date.
Gutiérrez’s Argentina as good as qualified for the knockout stages of the World Cup yesterday, but the makeshift right-back will have to watch one of his rivals stake their claim for the position on Tuesday.
The 26-year-old picked up his second booking of the tournament in yesterday’s 4-1 win over South Korea and is therefore suspended for his country’s final group game, against Greece.
With six points virtually assuring qualification, coach Diego Maradona (pictured left) might anyway use the game as an opportunity to experiment.
The victory set a new record for the Albiceleste, who are unbeaten in eight World Cup games. It bettered the run of the 1986 team Maradona inspired to the trophy. Meanwhile, Celtic have confirmed the widely-expected appointment of Alan Thompson. The Newcastle-born former Magpies trainee quit his job as United’s reserve team manager earlier this month to return to Celtic, another club he served as a midfielder.