Ryan Giggs had been waiting for this day all his life. Indeed, many in his homeland considered it his destiny. Emulating the blood-soaked heroes of Welsh legend, it was written that Giggs would lead his rabid countrymen for one last raid across Offa's Dyke to give the enemy what for.
The old bards would have appreciated the poetic justice of it all. The young man who had spent his formative years mixing among the enemy, rising out of their ranks when they least expected it to bring down the English overlords. Yes, the scriptwriters had been saving Private Ryan for this battle. This was his World Cup final, his platform to let his outrageous talent shine, his chance to implant himself in a Welsh folklore that would be played out for generations as bedside lamps were switched off across the Principality.
Alas, the only thing that will disturb Welsh slumbers in future years is the vision of Old Trafford, the theatre of the recurring dream. In it they will see Frank Lampard's early thunderbolt, David Beckham's strike of lightning but, most depressingly of all, Giggs drowning in a downpour of anti-climax. That it had to be played out on the stage that Giggs has made his own made the whole scenario seem somehow unfair.
Indeed, running out as an "away" player at the stadium that he has called home for all his grown days must have been the weirdest moment so far in the exalted life of Ryan Giggs.
Weirder than having to up his Cardiff roots to move north as a boy, weirder than feeling forced to change his surname as a 13-year-old and, yes, even weirder than captaining England Schoolboys to victory against his beloved Wales. It just didn't seem right.
"Ryan Giggs, Ryan Giggs, flying down the wing" in the role as villain of the Stretford End? Imagine Margaret Thatcher on the Labour frontbenches, the Reverend Ian Paisley topping the bill at the Vatican, or Sean Connery playing Dr No and you'd just about have it. Rarely has anyone had to acclimatise so quickly to such familiar surroundings.
Within three minutes he discovered what it is like to be a helpless minnow in the biggest club pond of all. In effect, Lampard's goal blew the fire out of Mark Hughes' Dragons before they had even had a chance to clear their larynxes. That it had unwittingly deflected off Michael Owen's ankle - a player the Welsh like to call their own, having been reared at their schools, on their pitches, with their betting slips - only deepened the visitors' misery.
Inevitably, they looked to Giggs to fan the embers. They looked in the wrong place. He did give Gary Neville a taster of the havoc his great friend had seen him wreaking in the opposite corner of the ground for all those years, but that's all it was, a taster, and not a very appetising one at that. One trademark mazy run, that upended Neville, was all Giggs had to show for a first half that must rank quite easily as his most humbling ever in these parts.
He could not even wholly blame his inferior team-mates for the paucity of his contribution either; he was given enough of the ball all right, he just couldn't do much with it.
Apart from letting one pass from Jason Koumas slip under his feet and into touch, there was also a lame free-kick that Wales could really not afford to waste, not to mention a flicked header in the box that sent the ball spinning towards the corner flag just as it appeared destined for Gary Speed's head.
It was not for the want of trying, however. Giggs was at least showing the spirit to run back a full 50 yards to dispossess Wayne Rooney on one occasion.
But even as these two became entangled it was hard not to feel that we were watching the final throes of a fading United hero trying anything to stop the inexorable ascendancy of the Reds' newest, brightest star.
In fact, judging by the noise of the greeting Robert Earnshaw received when coming on with 20 minutes to go, it seems that Giggs can no longer even lay claim to being Wales's most popular player. He had reminded everyone of the extraordinary skill he possesses with a nutmeg that had Neville looking at the air between his legs in disbelief, but, in truth, Wales had retreated into their shell and it was going to take more than one piece of trickery to woo them out.
Unfortunately, that was all Giggs had to offer. On the afternoon that Hughes had promised was to be lit up with Giggs' finest hour, the forlorn winger had to witness another former team-mate, David Beckham, restate his majesty with a classic goal.
Giggs trooped off the pitch - his pitch - a beaten and bowed Welshman. Twenty years is a long time to wait for a let-down as galling as this one turned out to be.Reuse content