Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 54-Heaven For Owen. Hell For Beckham (1998)

It wasn’t to be expected so early in the tournament but the pick of the Round 16 clashes at France ’98 had to be England V Argentina in St Etienne. The English had managed to mess up finishing top after a meekly defended goal by Dan Petrescue saw Romania do them 2-1. Luckily they did away with Colombia 2-0 thanks to goals from golden boy David Beckham (his first for England) and the token team retard Darren Anderton.

Anderton was one of the many Tottenham ‘favourites’ of coach Glenn Hoddle who had made their way in to the side. Another was Teddy Sheringham who had since moved to Man United from White Hart Lane and been busted having sex with a woman in a Portuguese toilet in the lead up to the event. He had kept his spot in the side after his poor debut season for United with the press and 99% of fans calling for the new young star Michael Owen to be included. Owen would finally earn his spot in the starting XI by the time this game rolled around.

The Argentine squad were over the scandals of 1994 and had talent to burn including the front two of Gabriel Batistuta and Hernan Crespo who until he went to Chelsea the most prolific strikers in any big league. The wannabe Maradona Ariel Ortega was also in the side along with ball busting talent such as Juan Sebastian Veron, Javier Zanetti and the rock himself Roberto Ayala. The side was knee deep in controversy before the start of the tournament though with coach (and winning 1978 captain) Daniel Passarella wanting all the player to cut their hair short or not get on the plane along with other boarding school like orders that saw Renondo and Troglio left behind.

Not that it seemed to matter, the walked their games in against Croatia, Jamaica and Japan. In all three games they never conceded a goal. Now Argentina and England, who had last faced one another in a World Cup in the legendary 1986 quarter final, were to face one another again in the last-16, and the entire attention of the football-world immediately shifted to this match in Saint-Étienne. The match started dramatically, after five minutes Argentina went ahead when Batistuta brought Argentina ahead 1-0 on a penalty kick. But England had in fact started with the best pace, and four minutes later, Newcastle’s sometimes maligned Alan Shearer equalized for England after a penalty kick after the 18-year old young Michael Owen was brought down by Roberto Ayala following Owen’s jinky little run.

It looked very much like a dive by the young Scouse but the Danish referee Kim Milton gave the penalty anyway. 2 goals for Shearer in the tournament and another reason for the boo boys to shut up. With the game level again it was again up to Owen to dazzle with a goal that is one of the greats of any tournament anywhere ever. Owen received a long ball in the Argentine half and slalomed his way towards goal, outrunning the Argentinean defender José Chamot, and elegantly getting around Roberto Ayala in full speed, he kicked the ball perfectly into goal with no chance for the goalkeeper Carlos Roa. Even the most hardened anti-Englishman when it came to sport would have jumped up seeing that goal (I did) and a superstar was born. Yes, and he should have laid the ball off to Scholes perhaps.

owen The man who shouldve been an all time great: Michael Owen

The match moved back and forth, with chances for both teams, but nothing happened until the very last minute of the first half and it must have had the English pulling their hair out. Argentina was given a free kick just outside the English penalty area. In a set kick, Juán Sebastián Verón completely surprised the English defence when, instead of shooting on goal he passed the ball to Zanetti standing inside the English area just at the edge of the defensive wall, who turned quickly and elegantly curved the ball around the English goalkeeper David Seaman.2-2 at halftime in what had been a splendid first half, and the second half started with drama.

Diego Simeone had made a foul against Beckham, who in frustration ‘kicked’ out at Simeone. None of us had seen this of course until the replays were shown. The replays were shown after Simeone had been booked and an unexpected red card been shown to Beckham. The Argentinean totally overdid his pain, but the Danish referee was standing right next to the situation and saw the  little tap back by Beckham as he lay on the ground as a retaliation. England was now pushed back on the defensive against the experienced Argentinians.

Indeed, England defended heroically, and even managed to get some big chances, among them an annulled goal by the Tottenham defender Sol Campbell. Campbell had headed the ball in from a deadball situation and it looked like a decent enough goal. With Campbell running to the bench to celebrate his coaching staff screamed at him to get back on the pitch as Argentina broke with a quick free kick. The reason for the foul being given? Shearer allegedly interfering with a defender or a keeper or some lame excuse. A bit harsh but 2-2 it stayed.

The dramatic match ended 2-2, and when the extra time ended goalless, the match had to go into what was a nerve wracking penalty shootout. It was looking good for England when the Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman saved Argentina’s second shot, by Crespo. However, the kicks were leveled already on the next shot when Carlos Roa saved the shot from the self proclaimed governor Paul Ince. Everybody scored on the following kicks right up to when Newcastle United’s beloved toe cutter David Batty was to kick the last penalty for England, at the score 4-3 for Argentina. Carlos Roa saved, which meant that Argentina won and there would be more tears of blood for England and their fans.

SLAM! World Cup Soccer Gallery Photo

While England went home, the press had a field day over the Beckham sending off. 10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy was one headline and David Beckham was made the official scapegoat for England’s failure in this tournament. He would sulk off to the America and impregnate his wife (hence the name of their first son Brooklyn) and then be booed wherever he went for the whole of following season but who went on to win the famous treble? Mr Beckham.

Owen took his form in to the new season and became a superstar who would shine brightly but fade quickly.  Argentina fell in the next round against the Netherlands 2-1 thanks to that goal by Bergkamp. This quarterfinal between England and Argentina was thus not a match between the two best teams in the world but the drama, the media hype and the fact that some of the best players in the world were there (and notably Beckham to make the mistake that oddly made him so unpopular in England) turned this into another match to add to the mounting classics of this, the only cross-Atlantic rivalry that goes far beyond football.

It is about something much deeper that England and Argentina grudgingly have more in common that any other nations on planet-football and long may it continue.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.


  1. Peter Fuller says

    Are you aware of the irreverent theory that the Beckhams’ first born’s given name involved some fudging on his parents’ part? You allude to the name Brooklyn, for which the received explanation was the location where he was conceived. Some people have been unkind enough to suggest that this is improbable. While it’s not out of the question that Dave might kip down in unfashionable Brooklyn, it barely seems possible that Lady Beckham would stay in the Big Apple anywhere other than Manhattan. However observers think that even these parents might have had doubts about giving the boy the burden of the name, Manhattan.

  2. Dennis Gedling says

    Yeah I never thought about that fact actually. It might derive from the fact I’ve never given any consideration to caring about anything Victoria Beckham has ever or will ever do. Manhattan wouldn’t of surprised me though. Manny for short?

  3. Thanks Dennis.

    It was heart breaking to watch. I think Campbell’s goal should have been allowed and Beckham was harshly treated.

    Yellows for Simeone and Beckham would have been OK but red seemed harsh to me. Another classic though.

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