Giggs grabs spotlight

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The Independent Online

The Wales manager, Mark Hughes, says Ryan Giggs is playing the best football of his life and can inspire Wales to victory in their opening World Cup qualifying game against Belarus here this afternoon. Hughes said: "Ryan is absolutely flying - his form is the best of his career and I am just grateful he's Welsh."

The Wales manager, Mark Hughes, says Ryan Giggs is playing the best football of his life and can inspire Wales to victory in their opening World Cup qualifying game against Belarus here this afternoon. Hughes said: "Ryan is absolutely flying - his form is the best of his career and I am just grateful he's Welsh."

The last time Giggs and Wales were in Minsk, the Manchester United winger scored a dramatic late winner to clinch a 2-1 success in a Euro 2000 qualifier almost a year ago. A repeat of that success would suit the manager perfectly - particularly after being forced to go into the match without a host of senior men.

John Hartson has pulled out following the disappointment of seeing his £7m move to Rangers fall through, while there are injuries to Mark Delaney, Dean Saunders, Matthew Jones and Kit Symons.

Giggs, who has himself been a regular casualty when previous squads have been named, has turned up to win his 27th cap here and is bristling for action in support of his former Old Trafford team-mate Hughes.

Hughes said: "Ryan is playing at the very height of his powers just now, he is world class and everybody who we play knows that and fears him.

"His ability is unquestioned although injuries took the edge off him last season. But he's now got his confidence back again to take people on and he's just wonderful to watch."

Giggs also believes he has never played better. He said: "I accept what people have been saying that I'm playing at my peak.

"It's all coming together and I enjoyed last season because it was one of my very best and it has carried on this season in the same way. Last season was a breath of fresh air for me. Before that I was always suffering with my hamstrings and struggling for fitness.

"I now feel I'm hitting my peak years and that the next three or four should be the best of my career."

Now Giggs will be expected to lead his country to glory. He added: "I remember our last trip to Belarus, it was Sparky's first game in charge and I managed to get the winner. It was one of my best moments for Wales.

"It was a good result because it is always hard at this level. Wherever you go these days there are no weak international teams.

He said of his match-winning performance in the corresponding European Championship qualifier: "It had been a pretty tight game with us coming back from a goal down, but once I'd got the goal near the end we were never going to let them back. Let's hope we can do the same thing again."

Hughes has just completed his first 12 months in control, although his official appointment was not rubber stamped by the Football Association of Wales until last December.

After Minsk, the Wales manager faces two crucial games in five days in October. Norway are in Cardiff on 7 October and there is a tough trip to Poland the following Wednesday. After that Hughes will be three games into a 10-match group and Wales' fate could already have been decided. Two wins from these first three games is the minimum requirement if dreams of a trip to Japan and South Korea in 2002 are to be maintained.

GROUP FIVE FIXTURES

Today: Norway v Armenia; Ukraine v Poland; Belarus v Wales. Sat 7 Oct: Armenia v Ukraine; Poland v Belarus; Wales v Norway. Wed 11 Oct: Belarus v Armenia; Norway v Ukraine; Poland v Wales. Sat 24 March: Ukraine v Belarus; Armenia v Wales; Norway v Poland. Wed 28 March: Belarus v Norway; Poland v Armenia; Wales v Ukraine. Sat 2 June: Armenia v Belarus; Ukraine v Norway; Wales v Poland. Wed 6 June: Norway v Belarus; Armenia v Poland; Ukraine v Wales. Sat 1 Sept: Belarus v Ukraine; Wales v Armenia; Poland v Norway. Wed 5 Sept: Ukraine v Armenia; Belarus v Poland; Norway v Wales. Sat 6 Oct: Armenia v Norway; Poland v Ukraine; Wales v Belarus.

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