An accusation often levelled at David Beckham is that he was more interested in becoming a public figure than a world-class footballer. He became both on his road to redemption for England.
Becks had been dropped by Glenn Hoddle for England’s opening two games at France ‘98, but was recalled for the crucial final group fixture against Colombia. Here he bent in a fine free kick, his first goal for England, as Hoddle’s side survived the ignominy of a group stage exit, finishing second to Romania.
England met Argentina in the second round, and one of the greatest halves in the history of football broke out. Argentina took the lead after five minutes from the penalty spot, only for Alan Shearer to return the compliment four minutes later. On sixteen minutes Michael Owen made a name for himself with a fine slalom run before dispatching the ball for 2-1, and Argentina levelled through a cleverly worked free kick routine just before the half was out.
But it was at the start of the second half when Beckham unfortunately cast himself as the villain. Having been crudely fouled by Diego Simeone, Beckham lay face down on the floor before kicking his leg out at the Argentinean, who tripped and fell. Beckham was given his marching orders, and although England hung on for a devastating penalty shoot-out defeat, Beckham could not escape being made the scapegoat.
Upon his return to England Beckham was pilloried by the press and public, and it wasn’t until England’s final 2002 World Cup qualifying game against Greece at Old Trafford that Becks laid his demons to rest.
England required a draw to qualify automatically for the 2002 World Cup, but were left trailing 2-1 with only seconds left at Old Trafford. Beckham had played his heart out, patrolling the pitch and exerting influence upon every blade of grass, but still England were on course to fall short.
‘A few of the fans are filing out of Old Trafford...’
And then two and a half minutes into stoppage time, Teddy Sheringham was fouled around 25 yards from goal. Up stepped Beckham.
‘Beckham could raise the roof here with a goal...’
And then he did.
‘I don’t believe it. David Beckham, scores the goal to take England all the way to the world cup finals. Give that man a knighthood!’
Beckham’s free kick was the stuff of movies, truly it was. His free kick bent further and further from the Greek goalkeeper Nikopolidis until it struck the back of the net, ensuring England topped the group ahead of Germany.
Beckham then further enhanced his popularity with England fans against Argentina in the group stage of the World Cup with a penalty, but it was his Old Trafford heroics that confirmed his redemption.
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