Alex Ferguson could not afford to pinpoint any single player last night. "I don't care who is our matchwinner," he had said beforehand but the Manchester United manager could be forgiven had his gaze lingered on the slight figure in the No 11 red shirt as he searched for a hero.
It is a long time since anyone compared Ryan Giggs to George Best. It was a fatuous exercise anyway, holding up the Welshman to a talent that burned more furiously than any other at Old Trafford, but injury has made it more so. Even the incomparable would have had his wings clipped if he had spent as much time on the treatment table as he did at the bar.
The last time Giggs could give full vent to his special gifts without the fear of inflaming a niggle was in the 1993-94 Double season. Since then there have been intermittent bursts of brilliance between lay-offs.
Last season's game against Juventus was one of those special nights. For 45 minutes Giggs bewitched the Italians, inspiring hope and fear with every twisting run. He repeated the performance against Porto at Old Trafford yet the season ended with him clutching a championship medal and also another fitness straw: an operation on a double hernia.
The memory of Giggs' quicksilver feet knocking the aplomb off the Juve defenders prompted Ferguson to play him through the middle last night. It was a tactical mistake.
Juventus knew where the danger lay and Paolo Montero felled Giggs with a chop to the knee as soon as he attempted to run at them. Then an injury to Nicky Butt, who had double vision, changed the balance of the team and Giggs was pushed to the left. Like an important move in chess, the whole tone of the match was altered.
With the first run down his favoured flank, opportunity beckoned. Presented with the acres beyond Fabio Pecchia and Alessandro Birindelli he rocketed to the byline, delivering a teasing pass over Angelo Peruzzi. Teddy Sheringham thumped a header for United's equaliser.
The route to Juventus's weak point had been exposed by that 39th-minute thrust. Giggs, on the left, was facing the Italians instead of playing with his back to them and in the 53rd minute he skipped past two defenders before being felled by Ciro Ferrara.
Instead of running into dead ends, United had an outlet. Giggs worried Juventus almost every time he got possession, crowning the night with a glorious goal two minutes from the end. Sheringham's pass gave him room and he cut outside a defender before scorching a shot into the roof of the net.
"No matter where he played tonight he would have been excellent," Ferguson said, forgetting the early frustrations. "He was fresh and going for it."
Marcello Lippi, the Juventus coach, could add only: "Giggs is a superb player." He was last night. United had their hero.Reuse content