Ryan Giggs' Record-Breaking European Highlights
Manchester United managed a 1-1 draw in their second UEFA Champions League group-stage match in Ukraine on Wednesday night, continuing their unbeaten start in Europe.
While the point might have been less than the team hoped for after leading with less than 15 minutes remaining, a point away to Shakhtar Donetsk is nothing to be sneered at and puts United in a good starting position to qualify for the knockout phase.
The game itself was of little note beyond a second-half substitution: Ryan Giggs came on for Marouane Fellaini after 66 minutes, in so doing breaking a Champions League record for the player to have made the most appearances in the competition.
The 39-year-old Giggs has 145 appearances in the competition, having surpassed Raul and looks likely to become the first player to surpass the 150 mark—presuming his continued involvement beyond the group stage this season.
Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 3, 2013
The Welshman's affiliation with the Champions League started in 1993, when he made his debut against Honved—20 years and two weeks before his 145th appearance. His performance wasn't half-bad either as he, clad in a horrid Norwich City-esque jersey, provided two goals for his teammates, including the winning third goal for Eric Cantona.
Still a teenager at that point, Giggs made four appearances that season in the Champions League as well as playing a big part in United's league campaign. It was already apparent that he would have a big impact at the highest level, if his first game was anything to go by.
It didn't take long for Giggs to score his first Champions League goal.
Though he didn't manage it in his four games in '93-94, his first appearance the following season yielded a brace in a 4-2 home win over IFK Gothenburg.
His first real crack at the latter stages came in '96-97, where Giggs scored the third goal in a 4-0 hammering of FC Porto in the quarter-final stages. That was enough to safely see them through to the semis after a 0-0 draw in the second leg—but Borussia Dortmund proved one step too far for United at that point.
The Germans would go on to win the Champions League that season, and Giggs would have to wait two more years to reach the final stages of the competition again.
Of course, when United did reach the last four again, they would go one step further this time to perhaps the greatest night of Giggs' career at that point.
The 1998-99 Champions League campaign saw Giggs feature and score against Barcelona and Brondby, while he also scored a critical 90th-minute equaliser for United at Old Trafford in the semi-final first leg against Juventus.
Following victory in the second leg in Italy, United progressed to face Bayern Munich in the final itself. Giggs played the full 90 minutes of that epic victory and, other than the scorers themselves in those final mad seconds, played perhaps the biggest part in United's comeback—he had the shot from the edge of the penalty area that Teddy Sheringham diverted inside the near post for 1-1.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored moments later, and Giggs had his first major European trophy in the bag.
In the two years that followed, United were beaten at the quarter-final stage by Real Madrid and a revenge-driven Bayern Munich, while Giggs himself only managed three goals. One came in the quarters against Bayern, but it was nowhere near enough to progress.
In 2001-02 United reached the last four again before German opposition once more stood in their way; this time it was Bayer Leverkusen that saw off the Red Devils on away goals, after a quarter-final goal from Giggs against Depor La Coruna had helped them pass that obstacle.
A year later it was the quarters and Real again, but one of Giggs' finest nights in Europe came in Turin, Italy, as he scored twice in a 3-0 rout of giants Juventus. His performance was all the more noteworthy as he started on the bench, came on inside 10 minutes and was substituted again himself just a few minutes into the second half.
Giggs scored five times in the Champions League that season, which remains his joint record for strikes in a single season in European competition.
It was to be four years before United even reached the quarterfinals again, but a run to the 2006-07 semifinal signalled the start of a great run of European form for Manchester United.
AC Milan proved United's superiors over two legs, despite a pair of Giggs assists in a victorious home leg. The mercurial midfielder had also racked up four assists in a 7-1 thrashing of fellow Italians AS Roma in the quarter-final stage.
The following two campaigns saw United reach consecutive Champions League finals and three finals in four years.
Giggs didn't score in United's run to the 2008 final and started the game against Chelsea on the bench, but he came on with three minutes of normal time to play and saw out extra time of the 1-1 draw.
As one of the experienced players it was maybe a surprise he didn't take one of the initial five penalties, but his cool head told nonetheless as he stepped up for United's seventh, sudden-death spot kick and scored—before Nicolas Anelka's miss meant United were Champions of Europe again. It was Giggs' second such trophy.
He wasn't to repeat his success in his next two finals, however, as Barcelona triumphed over United in 2009 and 2011. Giggs started both games in midfield but couldn't prevent defeat, as he took his personal record to four final appearances.
United's and Giggs' Champions League campaigns haven't quite lived to those standards in the two seasons hence, as they made a group-stage exit in 2012 and Giggs appeared in the second tier of European football (now the Europa League, then the UEFA Cup) for the first time since the 1995-96 season.
Giggs went the distance in the second leg against Real Madrid in the Champions League last season, but was unable to help United overcome the Spanish side—the third time that opposition has knocked the 39-year-old out of the competition.
Close to the very end of his career now, it remains to be seen whether Giggs has another crack at a fifth final, but his longevity in the toughest club tournament in the game and his incredible appearances record is testament to his ability, endurance and reliability.
With the younger Spanish duo of Xavi and Iker Casillas both having surpassed 130 appearances, it may not be a record that Giggs gets to keep hold of too long—but nobody can take away the European memories, nights and medals that he has significantly contributed to over the past two decades.
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