Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 79-The Redemption of ‘Golden Balls’ (2002)

When England were drawn against Argentina in Group F (the group of death) there were instant thoughts of the classic Round 16 clash in the previous World Cup where Michael Owen had dazzled, the cult joining Argentine goalkeeping nutjob Carlos Roa was heroic and David Beckham had been made a scapegoat for the failings of a country. It was with great anticipation that people flocked to the quite weird looking Sapporro Dome on the north island of Japan to see these two countries battle it out in their second matches of the tournament in what was clearly the most anticipated game of the first round.

England had had wretched luck in the lead up to the tournament (the first under Sven Goran Errikson). Star players Steven Gerrard, Gary Neville and Frank Lampard were all out among others so the not so star players of the Premier League like Danny ‘if it moves I can kick it’ Mills and Trevor ‘Labrador chasing a tennis ball’ Sinclair were in the squad. Even the villain of 1998 and now bonafide megastar David Beckham was only just passed fit for the tournament after breaking his foot towards the end of the domestic season.

Beckham had actually won a lot of the England fans back with his last minute winner against Greece to get England to the tournament itself. With Argentina heavy favourites in the tournament and to top the group they were favoured to beat the English who had only drawn with Sweden in their first game (a mistake by Mills costing them dearly). Straight from kick off in this Friday night blockbuster it was England though who were instantly on to a sluggish looking Argentina side but couldn’t seem to create any clear cut chances.

The Canadian/English/German Owen Hargreaves then broke down which meant that there was groans from English people when Trevor Sinclair in Gerrard’s #4 England shirt came on to the pitch. It was Sinclair who was a catalyst though for England and the chances started coming. First Nicky Butt (another who wouldn’t have been near the starting XI for England if not for injuries) put Owen through with a fantastic through ball. Owen held up the ball on the edge of the area with three defenders closing him down but he still managed to get a left footed shot away that went past the keeper’s left and hit the upright.

It wouldn’t be long until Argentina would finally wilt and Owen was launching in to the area again minutes before half time. He sidestepped Pochettino and was brought down with the softest of touches. The popular referee Pierluigi Colina pointed to the spot and England had a chance to go ahead. But who would take the penalty? Michael Owen had been a deadeye dick from the spot for England the past along with the ever reliable Paul Scholes but only one man could take it and it was Beckham.

Beckham, focused on more than his image and net worth for once, lined up the shot and shot straight virtually straight down the middle with the keeper making a meek attempt to save the ball. 1-0. Beckham then ran to the left corner flag arms aloft with his face giving the look of anything between ‘get a dog up ya’ and relief.

After half time it would have been expected by England to start to hold back and protect the lead from the inevitable Argentine onslaught led by the mercurial Gabriel ‘Batigol’ Batistuta but England continued to dominate and more chances came. Beckham mishit a shot from a decent angle and then Owen shot wide when trying to wiggle a ball inside the keeper’s far post. Then it was time for Scholes to try and find the second goal to kick to finish off their arch rivals.

First Scholes had a brilliant shot saved and he then looped a ball over the Argentine defence for Teddy Sheringham but his former Manchester United teammate saw his powerful shot from a difficult angle saved. With the arrival of Hernan Crespo in place of the booked and disappointing Batigol Argentina finally got their act together and turned the pressure on England but it all came too late with Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand in the centre of the defence pumped with confidence and making sure that David Seaman had little to do with the exception of a fantastic save from a corner.

England won 1-0, Beckham was a poster boy for England again and British theme pubs from the Old Bailey in Joondalup to the Elephant and Wheelbarrow on the Gold Coast were the scenes of many ben sherman shirts being ruined by spilled pints. A memorable moment for the redemption of David Beckham. His sending off in 1998 had been bewildering but at the same time it had also galvanised him in to the ‘Brand Beckham’ he is today in some kind of hero/anti hero way. It was also sweet revenge for England after being completely outplayed in the 1986 quarter final and the penalty shoot out loss in 1998 to Argentina.

Argentina would lose to Sweden in their final group match and pathetically go out of the tournament like many of the other big names in 2002. The images of the great Batigol weeping uncontrollably on the sidelines knowing he wouldn’t get a fourth chance at a World Cup following their elimination is hard to forget. England played well to get to the quarter finals where they were quite comically knocked out thanks Ronaldinho’s wonder lob but that a memory for another time.

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. ned_wilson says

    Dennis – I was in England for this. It was truly an amazing experience. The English love to beat the Aussies, but that is a playful rivalry. After the hand of God and the Faulklands, they straight out HATE Argentina. The game was on at about 11am local time so the entire country shut down for the game, then went bezerk after the final whistle. The pubs were full for two days. My fist experience of the amazing power of football.

  2. Dennis Gedling says

    I was in a packed English theme pub in the Northern suburbs of Perth going for Argentina. Good thing England won I guess.

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