Michael Owen leads Man United

Updated: July 31, 2011, 11:50 AM ET
Associated Press

LANDOVER, Maryland -- Again, Manchester United let FC Barcelona have most of the ball. But this time, they made Barca pay for losing it.

Michael Owen scored on a counterattack in the 76th minute to give Manchester United a 2-1 victory over FC Barcelona on Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeMichael Owen
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesManchester United's Chris Smalling (left) celebrates with teammate Michael Owen (center) after Owen scored the game-winning goal in the 76th minute against Barcelona in a friendly match in Maryland.

"Tonight wasn't a do-or-die situation," United assistant coach Mick Phelan said. "It was important that the players we put out on the pitch understand what it takes to play against an exceptional team. We have some very good young players out there and proudly conducted themselves to a high standard."

Nani also scored early for United, which exacted a measure of revenge in a preseason exhibition that doubled as a rematch of Barcelona's 3-1 victory in last May's Champions League final.

Thiago tied it for Barcelona in front of 81,807 at FedEx Field, the largest soccer crowd in Washington-area history.

He narrowly missed an equalizer a few minutes earlier after a sublime, chipped pass from Andres Iniesta. Pedro also forced United goalkeeper David De Gea into a diving stop earlier in the half, giving coach Pep Guardiola reasons for optimism.

"The confidence is huge," Guardiola said of Barcelona's upcoming season, which begins in late August. "It's impossible to have more confidence in these players. It's impossible because they've shown me many, many times the quality they are."

Tom Cleverley set up Owen's goal, stealing Sergio Busquets' pass in midfield, streaking toward goal, and then slipping a pass to Owen just in time to keep the forward onside.

Owen chipped the ball over Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who had rushed out to close the angle.

After a sluggish first half, Barcelona dominated the second until Owen's goal.

Thiago gave the defending Spanish league champions a deserved tying goal in the 70th minute, blasting a shot into the top right corner from about 23 yards out.

Nani put United, last year's Premier League winners, ahead on a similar goal to Owen's. Danny Welbeck collected the ball in midfield, charged forward, and then found Nani alone, who drove a low finish past Valdes in the 22nd minute.

Friendly or not, the rematch had a big-time atmosphere, complete with a halftime appearance from Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

Thousands of fans arrived several hours before kickoff, turning parking lots into a swirling mass of maroon and blue, red and black.

Barcelona's fans were in the majority, chanting "Barca! Barca! Barca!" as early as 45 minutes before kickoff, chants which eventually echoed throughout the stadium during the match's early stages.

For United coach Alex Ferguson, the atmosphere was notable.

"It's quite possible it was 50-50 in terms of the fans for (Barcelona) and ourselves, and they're all mixed together," said Ferguson after United's fifth and final game in the United States ahead of the Aug. 7 Community Shield game and Aug. 14 Premier League opener. "It's a fantastic sight to see that. It gives you hope that the game is bereft of some of the things that have happened in the past."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press