David Beckham confirmed he still has the appetite for the top level as Paris Saint-Germain began the build-up towards their Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona with a thrilling draw in Saint-Etienne.
After making his PSG debut in the biggest fixture in French football against Marseille at the end of last month, the veteran Englishman was handed a first Ligue 1 start at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. It was at Saint-Etienne's home ground where Beckham was famously sent off for that kick on Diego Simeone in England's penalties defeat to Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, and here he was, back again 15 years later.
It may not have been the World Cup, but this was a high-octane affair full of drama, a match between one club looking to go seven points clear at the top of the table and another in with a chance of moving into the top three. It was also a match between the two best teams in France in 2013, and it did not disappoint, with PSG opening up a two-goal lead inside 19 minutes before the home side battled back brilliantly to earn a 2-2 draw.
In it all, Beckham had a prominent role to play. That he was on the pitch at kick-off was surely only down to circumstances, with Paris coach Carlo Ancelotti deprived of the services of both Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti. In addition, injuries to both Jérémy Menez and Lucas Moura left Clément Chantôme as the only obvious alternative on the right wing, so Beckham was drafted in as a partner to Blaise Matuidi in the middle.
But he proved himself to be up to the task, albeit only after giving the ball away sloppily with one of his first touches of the match. Sitting in that pivotal position in front of the back four, he saw more of the ball than any of his team-mates, and got stuck in too. After one clumsy challenge on Josuha Guilavogui in almost exactly the spot where he clashed with Simeone all those years ago, the 37-year-old's temper flared in the second half.
PSG were furious that Saint-Etienne's second goal - a fine strike by François Clerc - was allowed to stand after the officials missed a dangerous challenge by Brandão in the build-up that caught his compatriot Thiago Silva on the right ankle. Silva was lucky to avoid serious injury, and Beckham almost came to blows with Brandão at full-time in a clash that was caught by television cameras.
L'Equipe described his performance as "combative," but the sports daily added that "there is no denying his elegance with the ball at his feet." Ancelotti, meanwhile, hailed the 37-year-old's physical shape, saying that Beckham "showed he can perform for 92 minutes, and was very important at controlling the play."
The Italian also said that he did not see the result as a missed opportunity, despite PSG squandering their two-goal advantage.
Events elsewhere over the weekend mean a draw can indeed go down as a good result for the capital club, with Lyon's 4-1 defeat in Bastia helping Paris go five points clear at the top of the table. After losing their last two away league matches, at Sochaux and Reims, holding an excellent Saint-Etienne team on their own patch is a big improvement, especially as PSG had already lost twice to Christophe Galtier's team this season, at the Parc des Princes in the reverse league fixture and then on penalties in the League Cup quarter-finals in November.
Ancelotti's side can afford to feel satisfied going into the international break, with that mouth-watering tie against Barcelona now on the horizon. It remains to be seen whether they are capable of competing with the Catalans, particularly with Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended for the first leg at the Parc des Princes unless PSG win an appeal against his ban.
Nothing they come up against in Ligue 1 can truly prepare them for what lies in store against what remains the best club side around, but there are some similarities to be found in Saint-Etienne.
Like Barca, Les Verts prefer a 4-3-3 formation and are capable of playing an intense pressing game, with the pace of Yohan Mollo and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang among their most dangerous assets.
Brandão is no Lionel Messi but, against Saint-Etienne, PSG were outnumbered in midfield, regularly requiring Chantome to tuck inside and lend a hand to Beckham and Matuidi as their attacking players frequently failed to help out defensively.
But if Beckham generally stood up to the task well, Ancelotti will surely choose either Motta or Verratti in that crucial central role when it comes to taking on the Catalans.
Andy Scott - Follow on Twitter @andpscott