The British press has always maintained a rather tempestuous affair with the national football team. The recent outrage over Raheem Sterling's gun tattoo is just one of the many issues that have seen the media, the players and even fans at loggerheads.
Among the handful of English players who have seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows in both their playing careers and their representation in the British media, the name of David Beckham will definitely be featured in the annals of British football history. One of the most-famous footballers faced one of his worst-ever lows in the 1998 FIFA World Cup when the media, the fans and even certain members of the England national team turned against him.
Beckham, who played a stellar role in the qualification stages, was not started in the first two group games by England coach Glenn Hoddle. While the coach blamed the absence on the midfielder's lack of concentration, the fans were baffled by the playmaker not starting in the World Cup, especially after the team lost to Romania in the second game.
England needed a win in their final group game against Columbia to qualify for the knockouts. Hoddle included Beckham in the starting eleven and his faith was repaid in the 29th minute of the match when a Beckham free-kick ensured their passage into the knockouts. It was his first-ever goal for the Three Lions and Beckham was a hero.
Everything changed in the span of four days. All it took was a nudge from Beckham's right leg, albeit not at the ball, to make him fall from grace.
England were battling it out with Argentina in their round-of-16 clash. The Albiceleste were unbeaten in the group stages and entered the match quite high on confidence. Argentina's Gabriel Batistuta converted a penalty in just the fifth minute of the game to take the lead. England hit back almost immediately with a penalty of their own from Alan Shearer and took the lead after seven minutes when Michael Owen produced his career-defining goal. However, just before half-time, Argentina restored parity with Javier Zanetti's goal to share the spoils when the teams went into the dugout after the half-time whistle.
The match was delicately poised then and England needed to go all out in the second half against one of the best-attacking teams in the tournament.
However, everything went haywire just two minutes after play resumed.
After being fouled by a particularly excessive shove from Argentinian captain Diego Simeone, Beckham fell to the ground. Lying on the ground, Beckham put out his right foot and gave Simeone the gentlest of kicks that resulted in the England midfielder being shown a red card.
Despite being reduced to 10 men England did well to keep the scoreline at 2-2 at full-time. The ramification of this red card was magnified when the match went into penalties and Beckham, one of England's better penalty takers, was relegated to the sidelines. Argentina went on to beat England 4-3 on penalties to advance to the quarter-finals.
The British press went berserk with their vilification of Beckham, with the Daily Mirror even going to the extent of providing its readers with a dart-board with his face in the middle. Even England fans were pretty unforgiving of Beckham and the collective rage against him continued to rise well into Euro 2000 where England was defeated by Portugal.
It took him three more years since that fateful day in France, exceptional performances after being promoted as captain in 2000 and a breathtaking free-kick against Greece in the final qualifying match for the FIFA World Cup 2002 that kick-started his transformation into a hero.
On a personal note, Beckham had his revenge in the 2002 World Cup when he hit the final nail in Argentina's coffin as they bowed out of the quadrennial tournament in the group stages itself.
And, the winning goal was, in a beautiful twist of fate, a penalty that rekindled the long-burning question — What if Beckham wasn't sent off on 26 June 1998 in the round-of-16 match against Argentina
To read about other famous FIFA World Cup moments, click here.
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Updated Date: Jun 03, 2018 20:19:27 IST