In retrospection, it might have been just one of those eventful moments in the remarkable life of David Beckham. But at the time, it was one of the unbelievably shocking moments when an upcoming English hero failed to serve his nation honorably.
The Whos: A reckless David Beckham and the eternal pantomime villain Diego Simeone.
The When and the Where: A Round of 16 fixture between England and Argentina at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne, on Tuesday June 30, 1998.
The Argentina-England rivalry had elevated the excitement surrounding the game to a feverish pitch, with England desperate to avenge the defeat of the 1986 world Cup.
A 23-year-old David Beckham already had a mini-controversy surrounding him during the initial stages of the 1998 World Cup. Having played each of the qualifying games, Beckham was not to start either of the first two group games. The then England-coach Glenn Hoddle accused him of not being focussed enough at the tournament. The decision of not playing Beckham backfired on Hoddle as England lost the second game versus Romania 2-1 and eventually created an uproar in the English press to have Beckham start for England.
David Beckham did indeed start the final group match and went on to score his first goal for England with a trademark free kick in a 2-0 win over Colombia. Few could predict the storm that was to follow the rising English star.
Although the game had several noteworthy events (including an astonishing goal by Michael Owen), the game is still remembered for David Beckham’s sending off. After being fouled by Diego Simeone, Mr. Golden-balls Beckham lying on the ground, vented his frustration
in a manner most typifying the Victorian masculinity and British valor - with a cheeky little flick of his right-leg tripping over a backward-walking Simeone. See the evidence here
The referee saw it as an unlawful act of petulance and showed Beckham the red card leaving England a man down early in second half. With the game locked at 2-2, England held on to the draw and eventually lost the game on penalties.
The Match itself
The game began and ended with penalties. It was Simeone himself who won an early penalty which was converted by Gabriel Batistuta. England equalised through a penalty of their own before an 18-year old Michael Owen briefly stole the show with one of the goals in World Cup History! Argentina equalised before half time and the game ended 2-2 at the end of 120 minutes.
The game is also remembered for the confusion ensuing a disallowed headed goal from Sol Campbell in the dying minutes of the game. As the England players began to celebrate a winning goal the referee blew for a foul that Alan Shearer had committed on the Argentine goalkeeper prior to the goal and disallowed it. The consequent free kick was taken very quickly, while the England players were still celebrating, Darren Anderton one of the few English players to realise the referee’s decision made a last ditch tackle to prevent Argentina from scoring.
A seemingly tired English side then lost out on penalties after Paul Ince and David Batty failed to convert their spot kicks. Argentina went on to win 4-3 on penalties.
Why was it so controversial
Being a dead ball specialist, Beckham would have been one of the five penalty takers during the shootout and would have been expected to score. Instead it was left to David Batty to take and eventually miss the last penalty. A 11-man English side would also have been expected to possibly beat Argentina in regulation time. Not for the first time, the English fans back home were left bitterly disappointed after being knocked out of the World Cup. Unsurprisingly, it was Beckham facing the brunt of the criticism.
Years of abuse would follow the incident. The press vilified David Beckham and his effigies were burnt outside London pubs. The headline in The Daily Mirror the following day described the England team as: "10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy". Beckham was to be voted the 91st worst Briton in Channel Four's poll of the 100 Worst Britons. He also reportedly received death threats and was taunted by a group of England supporters during a 3-2 defeat against Portugal in Euro 2000.
Though Beckham was to revive his international career in an emphatic fashion in 2001, the scathing criticism piled upon him until then was alarmingly unfair. The red card itself was debatable considering the tame nature of the offence. Simeone indeed admitted to trying to get Beckham sent off by over-reacting to the kick and then, along with other members of his team, urging the referee to send Beckham off.
David was to eventually avenge the defeat and redeem himself four years later, by scoring a penalty in a 1-0 victory over the same rivals in the 2002 edition of the World Cup. For Beckham it was to prove the beginning of an ‘on and off’ with the British and global media. He would go on to taste the highest highs and lowest lows of public and media affection. There was to be a never moment in the life of David Beckham.
For Diego Simeone, the event was to be not such of a torment although even he was criticised to have a played his part. Sports Illustrated was critical of the Argentinian's theatrics in that incident, stating that Simeone first delivered a "heavy-handed challenge" on Beckham and then "fell like a ton of bricks" when Beckham retaliated.