Top 10 World Cup memories: No. 7 - England 1-0 Argentina
In this special 10-part series, ESPN's Jayaditya Gupta, who has attended every World Cup since 2002, recalls his favourite matches from the tournament. At no. 7, it's the story of David Beckham's redemption against Argentina in 2002.
Some of the most high-profile and/or most talented players of the day up against each other: Scholes, Owen, Ferdinand in the white corner, Veron, Batistuta, Ortega in the blue. But the match was always going to be about one man: David Beckham, and whether he could redeem himself after his sending-off the last World Cup the two teams faced off in, four years previously in France. He'd already done it once, with his dramatic injury-time free kick against Greece the previous year that ensured England qualified for this tournament. This, though, would complete the payback.
England dominated the early proceedings, Owen skipping past a couple of defenders and beating the keeper with his shot, only for it to hit the post. Argentina used the craft of Veron and the industry of Javier Zanetti to target Batistuta and Sorin. But the pivotal moment came a minute before half time, when Mauricio Pochettino - the current Tottenham manager - tripped Owen in the box. Beckham converted the penalty and the second half was all about England defending deep - and succeeding.
0-0, 44 minutes on the clock. Owen is brought down in the box. Amid all the chaos and confusion, one man has one thought on his mind. As Argentina players argue with the referee, David Beckham walks to the ball, picks it up and places it on the penalty spot. No one else is getting anywhere near this. He waits while things quieten, the calm in the eye of the storm. Then waits for the keeper, Cavallero, and his nemesis of 1998, Diego Simeone, to finish sledging. A deep breath, and then begins his short bandy-legged run. He shapes to shoot to the keeper's right but instead hammers it just past his left foot. Cavallero has no chance.
In a second, four years of guilt, angst, suffering were washed away. Beckham's prodigious work rate and team ethic had never been in doubt but in that one minute between the foul being committed and the penalty being converted, one witnessed mental toughness of the highest order. He'd already seen the worst: "We hope your kid dies of cancer", the crowds chanted; they hung him in effigy, they abused his fiancée/wife, they put him through arguably the most vicious public abuse any sportsman has had to suffer. He responded by raising his game, first by winning the Treble with his club Manchester united, then by ensuring England made it to Japan. And then this.
It was the only time I stood and cheered in the press box (obviously I wasn't alone); England fan or not, Beckham fan or not, you had to love the human story in all of this. "I've been waiting for this victory - this moment - for a long time", he said after the match. The debt was repaid, and with interest.