After 120 Minutes, Argentina Boots Out England
By Anne Swardson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 1, 1998; Page C1
The most important player was England midfielder David Beckham, whose fit of pique earned him an ejection that left his team one player short for nearly all of the 45-minute second half and the 30 minutes of overtime.
True, Argentine midfielder Diego Simeone had knocked down Beckham seconds earlier, stepped on his back and pushed him actions that resulted in a a yellow card from Danish referee Kim Nielsen. But when Beckham, lying flat on his stomach, flipped his up heel and kicked Simeone in the hind end with his cleats, he was out of the game and a team that had demonstrated enormous possibilities for success in the first half was suddenly undermanned.
"I don't deny that the sending off cost us dearly," said England Coach Glenn Hoddle, who played in the team's last World Cup meeting a 1986 quarterfinal decided in Argentina's by Diego Maradona's infamous "Hand of God" goal, scored with his closed fist rather than his foot. "With 11 players against 11, the match would have been quite different."
The second-most important player for England was midfielder David Batty, who, according to Hoddle, had volunteered for the assignment when Hoddle was selecting his participants for the tie-breaker.
Batty had replaced Darren Anderton in the 97th minute. And when the two 15-minute periods of overtime were exhausted and the teams were down to the penalty-kick shootout, he was the fifth England player to walk from the center line to the penalty spot. His teammates Alan Shearer, Paul Merson and Michael Owen had scored on Argentine goalie Carlos Roa; Paul Ince's shot had been blocked. Argentina, whose players had shot first in the five-kick series, had four goals and a shot that had been saved.
Two hours 10 minutes of play had come down to this moment. For the last 70 minutes, England had held off Argentina despite the disparity in numbers. Defenders had blocked Argentine shots with their heads, their shins, their chests and their feet; goalkeeper David Seaman had had some good, if unremarkable, saves. Meanwhile, England, including 18-year-old whiz kid forward Michael Owen, had created several scoring chances and an apparent goal late in regulation that was nullified by a foul.
Now, Batty had to make this one shot for the tiebreaker to continue.
"You can't force someone to take a penalty," Hoddle said. "I asked David Batty if he wanted to take it and he accepted."
Batty unceremoniously dumped the ball onto the penalty spot and let fly with a too-straight, too-low, too-centered shot that Roa saved with little difficulty. The game was over. Batty's face remained calm, but his forehead crinkled as if he had suddenly gotten a headache. Then he walked over to Roa and became the first English player to shake his hand.
"Personally, I feel a bit cheated by the result," Batty said.
Said Roa: "In a shootout, you must forget everything else, and think only of stopping the shot. You are not expected to stop it, and if you do, you can win."
From Argentina's viewpoint, the shootout resulted from its virtual collapse in the second half. Coach Daniel Passarella said as much after the game: "We made abnormal errors in the second half in failing to finish and failing to score. Our control was not very good."
The teams were virtually equal in a scintillating first half: each side scored on a penalty kick and on a brilliant play.
Argentina scored the game's first goal on a penalty kick in the fifth minute when Seaman knocked down Simeone, receiving a yellow card for the foul. Forward Gabriel Batistuta put the ball past Seaman on a straight and fast shot about two feet off the ground for his fifth goal of the World Cup, tying him for the tournament goal-scoring lead with Italy's Christian Vieri.
But history quickly repeated itself: At the other end, Argentina sweeper Roberto Ayala brought down Owen in the penalty area, and Shearer converted the ensuing kick. It was the first goal scored on Argentina in eight games and nine minutes all three games in the first round of the World Cup and five friendly matches before that and it wasn't the last.
In the 15th minute, Owen showed why he is sometimes called the next Ronaldo, or perhaps another ongoing Ronaldo since the 21-year-old Brazilian star remains a little untried. During a swift run that covered nearly half the length of the field, Owen dribbled around Jose Chamot and Ayala, and nailed a right-footer into the far left side of the net.
For nearly the next half hour, the teams flailed at each other. But as the first half was drawing to a close, Ince pushed down Ayala just outside England's penalty area. Batistuta set himself up to take the free kick as Passarella shouted something from the sideline.
Next to Batistuta was midfielder Juan Veron. Batistuta started off toward the ball, but ran over it. Simeone advanced from the right, then Veron then tapped it sideways to defender Javier Zanetti, standing on the side away from England's wall of defenders, and Zanetti knocked it in.
Passarella said later that he had called that play, which players had practiced before. In his remarks to reporters after the game, the Argentine coach said the match had been "the hardest match of this round", though playing the Netherlands in the quarterfinals Saturday "is going to be a very hard game too." He declined to give England much credit for holding out while down one man: "England played as it always played," he said. "It played very hard and very well." The world will never know how England would have played with 11 players on the field.
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