Shinji Kagawa's performance brightened the mood of Manchester United fans who learned before kick-off that Chris Smalling may miss 10 weeks due to a toe injury and then watched as Bébé's late equaliser saved face against Ajax Cape Town.
Ajax's opener came in the 86th-minute when a dawdling United defence allowed Alcardo van Graan to fashion a flicked-heel finish. Moments later, Van Graan missed an open goal before United surged upfield in added time and Bébé, a second-half replacement, finished.
Following the news that Smalling's broken metatarsal could rule him out for close to three months, Kagawa stepped out for his first start in United colours to show a touch, vision and creative play when lining up in the hole in a 4-4-1-1 which suggested his £12m fee from Borussia Dortmund could be a shrewd investment.
As Ajax have never been champions of South Africa they were not ideal opposition to provide a barometer of the forward's abilities. But the Japanese was United's classiest operator throughout, wandering into space behind Javier Hernández, the main striker, to cause problems and fashion chances for the Mexican.
One came a minute after the break when Kagawa dropped into midfield, peered up, then slid the ball on the diagonal into Hernandez's run, though the striker steered the chance wide.
The 24-year-old also spurned an earlier opportunity when, from a Scott Wootton cross from the right, Hernandez's header was saved by Sander Westerveld, the former Liverpool goalkeeper.
Kagawa missed as good an opportunity on the hour. This time, Hernández did the creating by flipping in a cross from the left and the 22-year-old headed down but wide of the right post.
Kagawa's afternoon ended on 77 minutes and there was also a flash of promise from Nick Powell, the £4m buy from Crewe Alexandra. Making his debut as a substitute, the 18-year-old produced a sharp save from the Ajax keeper, Sean Roberts, with a fierce shot.