Ryan Giggs, who has won more titles than anyone else in English soccer, defied his 37 years to set up all three Manchester United goals in its Champions League quarterfinal win against Chelsea.
Giggs provided the passes for Javier Hernandez and Ji-Sung Park to score last night as United won 2-1 at its Old Trafford stadium. Giggs also set up Wayne Rooney for the only goal in the first game of the series in London.
“I’ve said it so many times about the man -- he’s incredible, a unique person and player,” United manager Alex Ferguson told reporters. “It’s a great contribution. His experience and composure were vital.”
United, which tops the Premier League and plays Manchester City on April 16 in an F.A. Cup semifinal, will meet Schalke or defending European champion Inter Milan for a place in the Champions League final at London’s Wembley Stadium on May 28. Schalke holds a 5-2 lead going into tonight’s match in Germany.
Giggs has scored 158 goals in a club-record 869 appearances in the two decades he has played for the Red Devils. He’s won 11 league titles, two European Cups and four F.A. Cups, and his legend is such among United fans that one of the biggest banners displayed at Old Trafford reads: “Giggs, tearing you apart since 1991.”
Ferguson credits the player’s longevity to sacrifice and intelligence. “To play at 37 years of age there must be tremendous sacrifice,” the coach said.
Giggs, the oldest outfield player on the pitch, covered more ground than anyone else in yesterday’s match, according to UEFA.
“I am enjoying it,” said Giggs, who ran 11,754 meters (7.2 miles). “I was fortunate to make the two goals tonight and I am in the position where I put it in the right areas. You’ve got players like Hernandez who are just born goalscorers and they are going to be there.”
Giggs last night broke through the Chelsea defense in the 43rd minute and played a low cross for Hernandez to tap in at the far post.
After Didier Drogba scored in the 77th minute for Chelsea to make it 1-1 on the night, Giggs played in Park with United’s next attack and the South Korean made it 3-1 in the series with a low strike into the net.
While United has been European champion three times, Chelsea and its billionaire owner Roman Abramovich -- who has plowed more than 750 million pounds ($1.22 billion) into the club -- have yet to win the continent’s top club prize.
The closest Chelsea has come was a defeat on penalty kicks to United in the 2008 final in Abramovich’s home town of Moscow.
The 44-year-old Abramovich was in the crowd yesterday to watch the latest failure, which included the sight of record 50 million-pound signing Fernando Torres being hauled off at halftime by coach Carlo Ancelotti.
The Spaniard, signed from Liverpool in January, has gone more than 700 minutes without scoring for his new team.
“I thought having signed Torres for the money they paid they had to play him,” Ferguson said of Ancelotti’s decision to leave Drogba out.
Torres’s replacement, Drogba, got Chelsea’s only goal of the tie when he blasted past goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar 10 minutes after Ramires had been ejected for a second yellow card.
Ancelotti denied Torres’s price tag had forced his inclusion, although the Italian acknowledged he may have chosen the wrong player to partner Nicolas Anelka in attack.
“Maybe I did,” Ancelotti said. “I thought a lot of time to take this decision to start with Fernando for this type of game and Didier played very well in the second half.”
The U.K. press has speculated that Ancelotti’s position may be in doubt. He’s the sixth coach under Abramovich, who bought Chelsea for 59.3 million pounds in July 2003. Last season, his first since arriving from AC Milan, Ancelotti guided the team to the F.A. Cup and Premier League titles.
“It’s not my decision to stay or not stay,” Ancelotti said. “I’m not concerned. I have to work. I have to try and do my best.”
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