Beckham’s Redemption

The England star ensured he would return from the 2002 World Cup a hero rather than a villain

England players seldom elevate themselves to hero status courtesy of a penalty at a major tournament.

Most end in tears and heartbreak for the Three Lions, but David Beckham’s spot-kick against Argentina at the 2002 World Cup not only earned his country a vital victory, but guaranteed England’s passage into the last 16. It also marked the end of his personal road to redemption, which began with a rather less joyous incident against La Albiceleste four years prior.

Vilified after being sent off for kicking out at Diego Simeone during England’s clash with Argentina in the last 16 of France 1998 - a match Glenn Hoddle’s men would later lose on penalties - Beckham gradually restored his reputation with stellar performances for an all-conquering Manchester United side.

He then went some way to rebuilding his relationship with those in the stands by sending England through to World Cup 2002 with a dramatic, last-gasp free-kick against Greece in qualifying.

Beckham’s heroics against the Greeks placated any remaining ill-feeling towards him by the few who were still put out by his actions in Saint-Etienne, and that he then had the chance to grant himself absolution against Argentina would certainly have been playing on his mind in the days that led up to the showdown in Sapporo.

Operating in his customary right-wing position, Beckham swiftly helped Sven Goran Eriksson’s side seize control against the much-fancied Argentinians. England dominated the ball for the majority of the first half despite losing Owen Hargreaves to injury just 20 minutes in, with Beckham acting as the creative hub. His influence eventually told on the stroke of half-time.

Argentina’s failure to sufficiently deal with concerted England pressure led to Nicky Butt finding Paul Scholes just outside the penalty area. The latter’s first-time pass to Michael Owen enabled the then-Liverpool forward to stand-up Mauricio Pochettino, and he was all too happy to take a tumble over the current Tottenham manager’s outstretched leg.

Legendary referee Pierluigi Collina pointed to the penalty spot without hesitation and the responsibility from 12 yards fell to Beckham, a picture of calm with eyes fixed on the ball while the rest of the world watched on.

What followed next is best described by legendary commentator John Motson: “Hold the cups and the glasses back home… you can smash them now! Beckham has scored for England!”

Beckham didn’t have any crockery to hand, only the embrace of his fellow England teammates and the overwhelming feeling of vindication.

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