Can’t resist posting this. 4am start was well worth it.
|SVEN’S MILLENNIUM MAN COMES GOOD IN THE DOME|
The spotlight was always going to be on Becks after his red card four years ago turned his world upside down.
He wasn’t alone in his heroism, however. Rio Ferdinand got rid of any doubts over his big match temperament, Ashley Cole was unbeatable on the left and Michael Owen scared the tournament favourites senseless. David Seaman’s safe hands were also faultless.
Politics and passion aside, Sweden’s victory over Nigeria earlier in Kobe turned up the heat on Eriksson’s men. But the three points hoist them up into second in Group F and right back in the equation. A point against Nigeria will see them reach the last 16.
The momentum gained from this electrifying win could take them much, much further though – maybe even force them back in the fray to make the final. And who would have thought that after Sunday’s mash-up against the Swedes?
The performance wasn’t as classy as the 5-1 win over the other old foe, but the determination and sheer desire to win was mountainous. Passes were strung together, but it was the rock-solid platform that, at times, took the breath away.
Argentina contributed but this wasn’t their day. They made the pace early on and Javier Zanetti warmed Seaman’s hands with a long shot on five minutes and Gonzalez lashed just wide of the keeper’s right post soon after.
Batistuta set up the chance with a backheel but he soon blotted his copybook with a late tackle on Ashley Cole that earned him an early yellow card. He nearly gained a quick second when he elbowed Beckham in an aerial challenge.
England’s revised 4-4-2 system was jolted out of its stride before it had even opened its legs. Owen Hargreaves, a victim of misfortune rather than foul play, had to depart after 19 minutes and on came that member of the international jet set, Trevor Sinclair.
But the change didn’t seem to disadvantage England, as Sinclair grew into his role of emrgency rescue man. On 22 minutes Owen twice had Argentina on the back foot with runs from deep in what was a pregnant spell for Eriksson’s men.
First Owen wriggled free of Walter Samuel as he broke into the box and after appearing to let the opening escape him, slapped the post with a low shot across the keeper’s face. He then nearly got the chance to do the same a minute later.
After a cautious start, England finally got to grips with the match as well as the occasion. Argentina, though, were potent on the counter and Gonzalez smacked a volley just over the bar after Ortega had swung a cross to the back post.
England’s movement and use of the ball was ten times better than five days earlier in Saitama. But for all their poise and pressure, there was still no real goal threat. But they surged into a lead on 44 minutes – thanks to that man Owen’s hoodoo over the Argentines.
Owen collected Scholes’ pass just inside the left of the box and seized the moment as he found himself one-on-one with Mauricio Pochettino. The Liverpool striker dipped to his left and moved to his right, foxing the hesitant defender.
Pochettino flicked out a leg, Owen went down, Collina pointed to the spot and Beckham blasted down the middle. England, of course, had a half-time lead over Sweden and failed to hold onto it. But this time they came up trumps.
Juan Veron continued his misery with all things English and was withdrawn at the break after a poor 45 minutes. Pablo Aimar, his replacement, took 20 seconds to get the pace and his shot from distance after a one-two with Batistuta worked Seaman.
But England looked comfortable on the counter and Owen nearly got the goal his all-round display deserved when he rolled Diego Placente and got a yard of space. His shot went wide of the far post but the danger signs were still there.
On 54 minutes, Beckham exploded out of nowhere and got ahead of Placente to collect the busy Sinclair’s ball into space, but his admirable poke went wide. Pablo Cavallero then stopped Teddy Sheringham’s volley from claiming the goal of the tournament award.
After a few more changes from coach Marcelo Bielsa, his side romped back into the game. Lopez spun the stoical Danny Mills and got a testing cross in that Seaman plucked from the head of Juan Pablo Sorin’s head. Aimar then went over from 20 yards.
Sheringham’s flick from Beckham’s 69th minute free-kick teased the massed ranks of England fans as it drifted in and then outside of the far post. Their nerves were already fraught after watching England’s defence hang around their own box.
The pressure was beginning to tell when Pochettino’s flick went just wide and sub Claudio Lopez skinned Mills before his cross was bundled out by the Leeds defender, who had made a speedy recovery. Ferdinand saved England soon after at the near post.
The game turned to attack versus defence for the final 20 minutes. Blue and white shirts, camped in the red half, knocked on the door time and time again. But Seaman saved Pochettino’s knock-down and then snatched off the head of Lopez as he attacked a bouncing ball. But they did it. Somehow they did it.
Eriksson said on Thursday that he ’will know whether we are a big team after this game’. He now knows the answer. The celebrations on the team coach may not be as spectacular as Argentina’s four years ago, but he will know.
MAN OF THE MATCH: FERDINAND (ENGLAND)
Argentina (3-4-3):12-Pablo Cavallero; 4-Mauricio Pochettino, 6-Walter Samuel, 13-Diego Placente; 8-Javier Zanetti, 14-Diego Simeone, 11-Juan Sebastian Veron (16-Pablo Aimar 46), 3-Juan Pablo Sorin; 10-Ariel Ortega, 9-Gabriel Batistuta (19-Hernan Crespo 60), 18-Kily Gonzalez (7-Claudio Lopez 64)
England (4-4-2) 1-David Seaman; 2-Danny Mills, 3-Ashley Cole, 5-Rio Ferdinand, 6-Sol Campbell; 7-David Beckham, 8-Paul Scholes, 21-Nicky Butt, 18-Owen Hargreaves (4-Trevor Sinclair 19); 10-Michael Owen (14-Wayne Bridge 80), 11-Emile Heskey (17-Teddy Sheringham 56)
Match referee: Pierluigi Collina (Italy)