Manchester United have demonstrated that Barcelona are not invincible, after all. Okay, this was only a pre-season friendly, a time for experimentation and Sir Alex Ferguson's team were spared the brilliance of Lionel Messi, but this was still an encouraging way for the Premier League champions to end their three-week tour of the United States.
The decisive moment was provided 14 minutes from the end by Michael Owen, who has now scored in three out of United's five tour matches. Nani, for long spells the outstanding player, had opened the scoring in the 20th minute before a brilliant strike from Thiago Alcântara levelled the match during Barcelona's one period of concerted pressure. Owen's goal came six minutes later on a night when the Champions League finalists attracted a crowd of 81,807 to the home of the Washington Redskins.
The downside for United was that Rafael da Silva was injured in a 17th-minute collision with Seydou Keita and must undergo tests on his right knee to ascertain whether he will be fit for the start of the season. There were also some anxious moments for David de Gea, particularly in the second half.
De Gea looked hesitant at times and Anders Lindegaard's impressive form on this tour leaves Ferguson with a dilemma about who should start the season in goal.
That apart, however, Ferguson can reflect on another satisfying performance from a side that have scored 20 times in their five successive wins on this tour and coped ably with the difficult conditions presented by a day when the temperatures had gone beyond 38C (100F).
Barcelona, to give them their due, were not just missing Messi, recuperating from the Copa América, but this was also their fourth game in a week and they were operating with two midfielders, Jonathan dos Santos and Sergio Busquets, playing in defence. Xavi Hernandez and Gerard Piqué were among those given the night off and their approach to the evening could probably be summed up by the attire of Pep Guardiola on the touchline, wearing bleached jeans and white trainers rather than the customary tailored suit.
Yet Ferguson, too, was not fielding his full-strength side, with Daniel Welbeck partnering Wayne Rooney for the opening half and Tom Cleverley operating in central midfield. Rio Ferdinand was given the night off, with Jonny Evans coming into defence, while Rooney, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were all withdrawn at half time. By the end, Ferguson had made seven substitutions, with only De Gea, Evans, Cleverley and Nani lasting the full match.
Cleverley can reflect on a decent evening, particularly in the build-up to Owen's goal when he anticipated a sloppy pass from Busquets, intercepted the ball and then released Owen to scamper away and dink his shot over the oncoming Victor Valdés. Nani, however, was United's best player by some distance, especially in the first half when his eagerness to impress on the right made him a constant menace for the Barcelona left-back, Eric Abidal.
Nani's goal stemmed from a nicely weighted through ball from Welbeck on a typical United counterattack, timing his run to stay onside before slipping his shot past Valdés.
Barcelona scarcely emerged as an attacking force in that period, barely recognisable from the team that had outclassed United at Wembley in May. In fact, it was possibly too quiet for De Gea. The Spaniard was a virtual spectator throughout the first half and looked anything but commanding after the restart. One miscued kick went straight to Isaac Cuenca 30 yards from goal and could conceivably have been punished more heavily. A few minutes later, De Gea was hesitant in the extreme when Andrés Iniesta dinked a little up-and-under into Thiago's path. These moments were probably inevitable for a 20-year-old at a new club but Ferguson must hope they do not linger.
De Gea was also rooted to the spot as Thiago's shot went in for the equaliser although in this instance the credit should go to the Barcelona player. Thiago struck his effort superbly with the outside of his right boot from 25 yards, the ball twisting away from De Gea and spearing into the top right-hand corner of his net.
Owen then raced away to restore United's lead and on the balance of play it was probably deserved. The striker tarnished the moment with a horrible miss in the final few minutes, blazing over an open goal, but it mattered little.
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Rafael (Fabio, 17), Vidic, (Jones, 76) Evans, Evra (Smalling, ht); Nani, Cleverley, Anderson (Giggs, ht), Young (Obertan, 62); Rooney (Owen, ht), Welbeck (Diouf, 77). Subs not used: Lindegaard, Amos, Jones, Ferdinand, Carrick, Park, Berbatov, Macheda.
Barcelona (4-1-4-1): Valdés; Dos Santos (Muniesa, 62), Busquets, Fontàs (Lozano, 73), Abidal (Balliu, 73); Keita; Afellay (Cuenca, 42), Thiago, Iniesta, Pedro (Espinosa, 86); Villa (Carmona, 62). Subs not used: Piqué, Puyol, Xavi, Jeffrén, Pinto, Riverola, Maxwell, Masip.
Yellow card: Dos Santos