With the 2018 World Cup just around the corner, what better way to look forward to this year’s event in Russia than a trip down memory lane to look at David Beckham’s most notable moments in the competition.
Through the good times and the bad, Leytonstone’s favourite son provided England supporters – and indeed the UK press – with plenty to talk about throughout his World Cup career. What follows is a look at five key moments starting with his first outing in France ‘98.
Beckham proves the doubters wrong
After having exploded onto the domestic scene in 1996 with a goal from the half-way line versus Wimbledon for Manchester United, a 22-year-old David Beckham played his way into contention for selection in the 1998 World Cup under then-boss Glenn Hoddle. The winger was the only player to have appeared in all of the qualifying matches, yet the Hoddle remained unconvinced over his commitment to the cause when the tournament got underway.
The critique of Beckham’s public lifestyle in the media – with a Spice Girl for a fiancee and a flamboyant dress-sense – was one of many times that the England star’s off-field activities would come into question. The Manchester United player was dropped for the opening two games in France, but brought back for the final group encounter with Colombia. “He really didn’t have his mind concentrated on the World Cup,” declared Hoddle at the time. “But now he has and that’s why I chose him.”
As would happen many times over in his career, Beckham gave his reply on the pitch, scoring a stunning free-kick that would become part of his trademark as England advanced to the knockout stages with a 2-0 win over Los Cafeteros.
From hero to villain in St. Etienne
This moment needs no introduction as England supporters will undoubtedly remember that sending off in a delicately-poised match versus Argentina, one that the opposition eventually won on penalties. Following a heavy tackle from Diego Simeone, a young Beckham kicked out at his opponent whilst on the ground, a move that would see him sent off by referee Kim Nielsen.
“I had tackled him, and we both fell to the ground,” Simeone subsequently revealed to Observer Sport Monthly. “As I was trying to stand up that was when he kicked me from behind. And I took advantage of that. And I think any person would have taken advantage of that in just the same way.”
Blamed by Hoddle for the eventual defeat, Beckham would endure a campaign of hatred from the media and fans across the country. Such an experience was indisputably difficult for the player at that time, however it is something that he has since credited for assisting not only with his development as a player, but also helping him to mature on a personal level.
As we jump forward four years to 2002, Beckham had a chance to silence his critics as England were drawn with Argentina in the group stages at the Japan and Korea World Cup. Following a nervy 1-1 draw with Sweden in the opening match, the Three Lions knew they had to make the result count, but their rivals were on the attack right from the get-go.
Yet the England defence held firm, and when Michael Owen was fouled in the box by Mauricio Pochettino, who better than to take the resulting spot-kick than the England captain? The man who had single-handedly put his side in that tournament with a last-minute free-kick versus Greece in the qualifiers stepped up, breathing hard, but Beckham converted with apparent ease to earn redemption for what had happened in ‘98.
It was one of the most memorable moments in England’s history as that side would go on to advance to the knockout stages along with Sweden from that so-called “Group of Death”.
By 2006, the country had become well-accustomed to the dead-ball skills of David Beckham, and he continued to supply memorable moments in that year’s World Cup. His side faced Ecuador in the round of 16, and yet another stunning free-kick from well outside the box sent England through to the quarter-finals of the competition in Germany.
With that strike, Beckham became the first English player in history to have scored at three separate World Cups, playing on even after having vomited several times on the pitch, later being diagnosed with dehydration and exhaustion.
A Tearful Finale
An injury kept Beckham out of the following match versus Portugal and – after England exited the tournament on penalties – the winger stepped down from his role as Captain in a tearful address to the nation. Boss Steve McClaren would then drop him from the side completely, citing a desire to “move in a new direction” before the former skipper was ultimately reinstated by Fabio Capello in 2008.
It looked as though the veteran was due to receive a place in the squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, however injury prevented Beckham from appearing on the biggest stage one final time. He had signed off from an eventful World Cup career with the aforementioned free-kick versus Ecuador, a fitting ending for one of the most influential and memorable England players in the last two decades.
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Also published on Medium.