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31 May 2006 08:04
David Beckham’s defining moment in an England shirt came at Old Trafford in October 2001 when his injury-time free kick against Greece secured World Cup qualification and proved the zenith of his international career.
To say that it has all been downhill since then would be harsh on the Real Madrid midfielder, but his star has never quite shone as brightly as it did on that Saturday afternoon in Manchester five years ago.
A disappointing campaign at Euro 2004 and the emergence of Wayne Rooney as England’s new golden boy has eroded Beckham’s position as Sven-Goran Eriksson’s main man.
But with Rooney absent with the broken metatarsal that is threatening to ruin his World Cup dream, Beckham’s match-winning display against Hungary at Old Trafford on Tuesday proved that “Goldenballs” still has the ability to guide England to glory in Germany.
At 31, Beckham is unlikely to have another World Cup on his horizon after Germany 2006, but the former Manchester United star has often billed 2006 as the year that destiny awaits for this England team.
If Rooney fails to make the plane, then Beckham will again reclaim the centre stage and he suggested against Hungary that he is more than capable of coping with that burden.
Beckham’s position in Eriksson’s first 11 has been a hot topic of debate ever since his dismal Euro 2004, but the Swede has always remained loyal, despite question marks over his captain’s real value to the team.
Too slow, too keen to play in a central role and too obsessed with his own celebrity have been the charges labelled against him.
Those criticisms were answered against Hungary, however, as Beckham’s golden boot masterminded England’s victory against their lively opponents.
His pace has never been his strongest suit, but the ability to cross the ball from a standstill is unmatched by any other player on the global stage, and England’s first two goals came from his pinpoint delivery.
In a first half that saw England struggle to carve open the Hungarian defence, Beckham’s crosses for Michael Owen and Joe Cole both brought clear goal-scoring chances, with Owen’s header producing a stunning save by Gabor Kiraly and Cole glancing his effort on to the far post.
Beckham’s delivery bore fruit early in the second half, however, with Steven Gerrard and John Terry both scoring with headers from Beckham free kicks.
His deployment in a central role in the past by Eriksson has often diminished his crossing ability.
He may prefer to play in the centre, but he is at his best on the right flank and if Beckham can reproduce this kind of form in Germany, then even the best defences in the tournament will struggle to cope with his, and England’s, lethal weapon.—Sapa-AFP
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