- There was no love lost between Argentina and England
- The Archbishop of York made fans chuckle pre-match
- A red card, a disallowed goal and more penalty heartbreak
In the first meeting between Argentina and England since their infamous duel at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™, in which Diego Maradona scored the 'Hand of God' and 'Goal of the Century', pre-match feelings were running high. Indeed, Albiceleste captain Diego Simeone summed up the mood of his camp when he said: “Quite apart from the political history, the desire of the whole country is to defeat England.
As the English football magazine FourFourTwo recalled, adidas launched an advert on the day of the game with a photo of David Beckham, with the caption: ‘After tonight, England v Argentina will be remembered for what a player did with his feet.’
Meanwhile, David Hope, the Archbishop of York, said that he was “hoping it will be the foot of an English footballer, rather than the hand of God, that will make the difference. Although adidas and the Archbishop were prophetically correct, it may not have been in the way they were expecting.
National pride and a place in the quarter-finals against the Netherlands in Marseille’s Velodrome were on offer.
England began the match brightly, but it was Argentina who took an early lead. Escaping his marker, Simeone ran towards goal. David Seaman advanced from his line and brought down the midfielder inside the box while diving for the ball. Referee Kim Milton Nielsen had no alternative but to point to the spot, and Gabriel Batistuta made no mistake from 12 yards.
Glenn Hoddle’s side responded well to conceding and found themselves level just four minutes later. Michael Owen was threatening to outpace Roberto Ayala en route to goal and was brought down by the Argentina captain. Owen’s senior strike partner Alan Shearer stepped up to take the resulting penalty to fire the Three Lions level.
Things turned from bad to worse for Argentina six minutes later. Beckham lofted a superb pass which met the run of Owen. After shrugging off the attentions of Jose Chamot, he avoided the challenge of Roberto Ayala before firing a precise drive into the far corner of Carlos Roa’s goal. At 2-1, Paul Scholes had a fantastic opportunity to make it 3-1, but failed to hit the target from close range.
That miss was to prove costly for England. In added time at the end of the first half, Argentina were awarded a free-kick . Batistuta shaped to shoot, but Veron slipped the ball precisely into Javier Zanetti’s run. The full-back's first touch was perfect and he fired the Albiceleste level. It was a routine straight from the training ground, and it paid off handsomely.
The turning point of the game came two minutes after the break. Tackled from behind by Simeone, Beckham fell forward and, as he lay on the turf, flicked out a boot at his adversary. The incident took place in full view of the referee. Simeone was booked, Beckham red carded - England had their back to the wall for the remainder of the match.
With Argentina pressing, prompting and asking all the questions orchestrated by Nelson Vivas and Ariel Ortega, they found Tony Adams and Sol Campbell impenetrable at the heart of the England defence. Indeed, Campbell had the ball in the net, but to no avail, as Shearer also had his elbow in Roa’s face with the giant defender convinced he has won the game for his country.
Extra-time came and went and penalties were needed to separate the sides. Sergio Berti scored for Argentina, while Shearer repeated his earlier success from the spot. Seaman saved from Hernan Crespo, but then Paul Ince was denied by Roa. Veron and Paul Merson then found the net.
Ayala made it 4-3, but David Batty had his shot saved. England were out, once again contemplating what might have been. “There is so much hurt in there,” said Hoddle, referring to his dressing room. “To hold out that long against a side like Argentina is incredible. We were so near to one of the most historic wins ever.”
What happened next…
The England players headed to the dressing room to find Beckham crying, while in the other dressing room, it was party time for the Argentinians who went on to face the Oranje. After a close 89 minutes, they were undone by a wonder goal from Dennis Bergkamp, who controlled a long ball from Frank de Boer with a fantastic leap, brought the ball down between Ayala’s legs, before beating Roa with a perfectly-executed volley with the outside of his right boot.
Meanwhile, Beckham, who returned to England to find that effigies of him were being burned, went on to have his most successful club season ever, winning the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League with Manchester United. Full redemption came at Korea/Japan 2002, when he scored a match-winning penalty against Argentina in the group stage.