TODAY in 1999 football fans across the country were remarking on two things. The first was Ryan Giggs’ wonder-goal that settled their titanic FA Cup semi-final clash with Arsenal and the second was the chest-rug that he showed off to the world during his resulting celebration.
Clashes between Arsenal and Manchester United are often the only ‘big four’ games that live up to the relentless hype and media hyperbole that we get from Sky Sports and the like, and this was probably the best in recent memory.
Locked in an enthralling title battle that had seen both sides go unbeaten in all competitions since Christmas the Gunners met the Red Devils with much more than just a place at the Cup final in Cardiff at stake. Bragging rights and the psychological advantage that no amount of Fergie/Wenger mind games could ever hope to equal were the order of the day at Villa Park.
David Beckham had given United an early lead before Dennis Bergkamp cancelled it out in the second half, as Arsenal began to dominate. Down to ten men after Roy Keane’s red card and with an injured Ronny Johnsen limping around his own penalty area it looked like United’s dreams of an historic treble were going up in smoke.
Arsenal were awarded an injury-time penalty and you could have forgiven Gooner fans for thinking about booking hotel rooms in south Wales. Peter Schmeichel, however, had other ideas, saving Bergkamp’s spot-kick and forcing extra-time.
For most of the extra period United were still on the ropes, failing to put together any decent passing moves as Arsenal lacked the killer instinct. The 109th minute saw a game-defining, nay, era-defining moment as Ryan Giggs picked the ball up in his own half, slalomed past a shell-shocked Arsenal midfield and defence before smashing the ball past the hapless David Seaman.
The United half of Villa Park went into delirium, Giggs whipped off his shirt to reveal an inordinate amount of chest hair and the reality of a treble were getting ever closer for Sir Alex and his troops.
Giggs’ moment of genius has since been voted as United’s greatest ever goal and weeks later he did it again, scoring an injury-time equaliser in their Champions League semi-final first leg against Juventus, leaving Fergie with the Welshman to thank for their historic treble, his knighthood and, of course “that night in Barcelona” (copyright Clyde Tyldesley).
Remind yourself how good the Welshman’s goal was below and head back over here more of the same, but with less hairy chests.
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