The 2002 World Cup provided David Beckham redemption after the red card four years earlier. DANNY LEWIS explains
Four years prior to this moment a reactionary flick of David Beckham’s right boot had seen him vilified by an entire nation. As the young man walked down the tunnel, met with smirks from Gabriel Batistuta and Argentinians around the world after being shown a red card for tripping Diego Simeone in St. Etienne, Beckham was not to know of the turmoil that he would be put through back home. He was branded as the stupid boy amongst heroic lions in the press, effigies were burned, and he received death threats and taunts.
He may now be regarded as one of England’s greatest ever players but, following this moment of madness, many were calling for him to be discarded by the national team. Despite this, he eventually won back the trust of those who had doubted him through his performances for both club and country. A big step in doing so was that iconic free-kick against Greece, which got England to the 2002 World Cup. With the captain’s armband strapped across his arm, he had produced a vintage David Beckham free-kick that would go down in English football history.
Michael Owen – who had scored a wonder goal on the same day Beckham tripped Simeone – was instrumental once again in 2002, felled in the box by current Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino. This was the time for ultimate redemption. This was the World Cup. This was Argentina. This was David Beckham standing in front of Pablo Cavallero with just a football on the penalty spot separating them, separating Beckham and a chance to be the talking point against Argentina for the right reason. With his hands on his hips, a mohawk on his head and a nation’s expectations on his shoulders, Becks took a deep breath, ran up to the ball and smashed it past Caballero’s outstretched leg.
This was far from the perfect penalty, but as Beckham sprinted towards the corner flag, grappling with his shirt to plant his lips upon the Three Lions badge, it is unlikely that any English man, woman or child cared much for the technique involved. Houses, pubs, sheds and just about anywhere in England you could get a television screen was filled with cheers and screams of joy and hope, imagining what this England team led by their talismanic captain David Beckham could achieve. On their screens, it was clear to see the jubilation on Beckham’s face as Trevor Sinclair, Rio Ferdinand, Emile Heskey and Sol Campbell grabbed him in celebration.
Pochettino almost made up for his error later in the game but was denied by the legs of David Seaman, with Teddy Sheringham coming closest for England. However, when the full-time whistle went it was still 1-0 to England and it was David Beckham who had made the difference. However, this was to be one of the main highlights for this England side, as they had drawn against Sweden and went on to do the same against Nigeria, finishing second in the group.
England did manage to overcome Denmark 3-0 in the Round of 16, but as is often the case for English fans watching a World Cup, the everlasting memory is one of misery. The team they met in the quarter-finals was the eventual winner Brazil. Owen had opened the scoring, but just before the half-time break, Ronaldinho danced through England’s midfield and defensive lines before laying the ball off to Rivaldo, who placed it into the bottom corner. However, this was not the defining moment, though it was provided by Ronaldinho, as the Brazilian sent a free-kick over David Seaman’s flailing hands and into the top corner from a free kick which he had no right to even try to score from.
Beckham and Co. were unable to bring the trophy home, but as the plane landed back on English soil there were no jeers or hard feelings aimed towards the captain. While a strong sense of disappointment lingered at the way the Three Lions had exited the competition, it was difficult to put much of the blame on the shoulders of Beckham. He had provided his nation’s best moment of the World Cup with the same boot that had caused such a big blow to his country’s chances in the 1998 edition of the same tournament. That penalty may not be the moment that reminds people of David Beckham’s supreme skill with a football at his feet, but it is arguably one of his most memorable in an England shirt.