Football: Giggs' goal a winner in every respect

The perfectly timed strike by the Manchester United winger will live long in the memory of every football supporter. By Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online
SINCE THE explosion of televised football coverage the game's currency, goals, has been debased. A goal is still worth the same as it was 20 years ago but the best ones no longer sear themselves into the memory in the way they used to. Then the only goals seen were the relative few watched in the flesh, and the dozen or so per week that featured on The Big Match and Match of the Day. Since most goals, then as now, are ordinary a great goal, such as Justin Fashanu's turn and volley for Norwich against Liverpool, stuck in the mind for years.

Now every goal scored in the professional game is recorded with the result that there is usually one Premiership cracker in Match of the Day while the aficionados and insomniacs who watch Nationwide League Extra see half- a-dozen a week. It thus takes something really special to stand out: David Ginola's juggled volley against Ferencvaros, Trevor Sinclair's overhead kick for Queen's Park Rangers, Michael Owen's World Cup sprint.

Ryan Giggs' goal for Manchester United against Arsenal at Villa Park on Wednesday night was in that league. Actually, it was better. The context, an extra-time goal in a stunning FA Cup semi-final replay, eclipses all but Owen's goal and, not only was Giggs' goal better, it was also a winner.

When Giggs picked up the ball, well inside his own half, from a loose pass by Patrick Vieira, there was enough space in front of him to prompt the thought: "Go on, run at them, see what happens." Giggs in full flight is one of the most thrilling sights in the game but it is rarely seen, either he chooses a safer option or the opposition are too tight on him.

On Wednesday night there were no better options, United, down to 10 men, were unable to support their attacks. Arsenal, tired themselves and committed to pushing forward, were slow to get close to Giggs. By the time they did he had picked up a head of steam. His 70-yard dribble took him past three of the Gunners' famous back four - Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Tony Adams - plus Vieira. Dixon he beat twice.

With respect to Barnsley, this made it rather better than Ginola's recent FA Cup goal, even if Giggs, having come on as a substitute, was fresher than his opponents. Yet it looked, as he approached the six-yard box, that he had run out of space but the finish, a rising drive into the roof of the net, was as good as the preamble.

Inevitably, after a high like that, yesterday morning brought a hangover as United counted the cost. Giggs, who suffered a late ankle injury, is unlikely to play against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday but should be available for next week's European Cup semi-final second leg against Juventus. The condition of Peter Schmeichel, who was hobbling by the end having damaged his left side making the third of a trio of fine saves from Dennis Bergkamp, is still uncertain. So worried was Alex Ferguson he even considered putting Paul Scholes in goal. Denis Irwin, who was injured in the first match, is also doubtful while Keane will miss the Premiership match with Aston Villa on 1 May following his dismissal.

Should United beat Juventus, they will have another problem. The FA Cup final is four days before the European Cup final against Bayern Munich or Dynamo Kiev in Barcelona.

As for Arsenal, they have an extra two days to recover before playing Wimbledon on Monday. Marc Overmars and bruised confidence, having been outplayed for much of both matches, are their biggest problems. Chelsea, incidentally, host Leicester on Sunday.

The final will, surprisingly, be the first between the Uniteds of Manchester and Newcastle though they have made 26 previous appearances between them. They have met twice in the competition, Manchester prevailing in both the fifth round in 1990 and the semi-final in 1909. They have also met once at Wembley, in the Charity Shield in August 1996, Manchester winning 4-0.

In addition Manchester United, now unbeaten in 24 matches since December, have not lost to Newcastle in five matches since the 5-0 drubbing at St James' Park in October 1996.

Should the Magpies bother turning up, then? Definitely. Just remember, Arsenal were unbeaten in 21 matches, and had won four and drawn two of their previous six games with Manchester United, when they arrived at Villa Park on Wednesday.

Alan Shearer v Jaap Stam, Dietmar Hamann v Roy Keane, Andy Cole v his old team, Ruud Gullit v Alex Ferguson. It could be a contest to savour, but we will be very, very lucky if the drama matches the night Giggs jigged at the Villa.