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England vs Argentina - The English Fan

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


World Cup 2nd Round, 30 June 1998. This is the story of that game told by an English and an Argentinean fan.
I knew we could win it - I just knew it. When I looked at the two sides I thought we probably weren't good enough to win the competition, and they probably were. But for this game, I knew we could do it, and that would be that. Honestly guv'nor.
I was sharing these thoughts with my friends and they felt the same. In fact, an air of confidence pervaded the whole pub. There must have been nearly a hundred fans gathered round the big screen all sharing the same hope for England. In retrospect, it seems obvious that we had collectively talked ourselves up into a false sense of expectation, but that's what happens in a crowd, you just kind of feed off each other and build things up out of proportion.
We soon got things back into perspective shortly after the kick off.
We started shakily, and after only six minutes Seaman fouled the Argentinean captain Simeone and my confidence started to falter. Batistuta buried the penalty, but scoring so early certainly didn't mean that our chances were buried.
There'd been a lot of talk about Michael Owen before the game. He'd played as sub in two of the three group games with just one start against Colombia. He'd looked very sharp and the nation were willing Hoddle to start him instead of Sheringham. We needed his speed and tenacity, and his youth, if we were going to undo the tough and experienced Argentinean defence. Hoddle's decision to start with Owen soon paid off.
When Owen got up a full head of steam and charged at the Argentinean defence, they simply looked terrified. Only four minutes after they scored their penalty, they conceded one to us by upending Owen. Shearer put the spot-kick away without any fuss, and it was one all, but we were in the ascendancy. Six minutes later, that ascendancy paid off with one of the goals of the tournament. Beckham split the midfield with a lovely pass through to Owen who with his first touch scampered past Chamot, who would have fouled Owen if he was quick enough. Owen sped through the centre of towards the Argentine area and the hapless Ayala backed off and backed off until he was in his own area, and therefore couldn't risk fouling the galloping Owen. Owen side-stepped to Ayala's left, making a yard for the shot and then unleashed a piledriver that crossed the goalkeeper, Roa, and ripped the back of the net.
We went absolutely berserk in the pub. Surely, this was it. England couldn't lose now. Though it was still very early in the game, it seemed that a goal like that not only deserved to win us the game - but the whole tournament too! It was one of the best goals England had ever scored at this level.
Going forward we looked good and we were also looking strong at the back. Batistuta is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the world but Campbell, Adams and Neville had kept him out of the game. However, right on the stroke of halftime we gave away a free-kick on the edge of the area. Veron and Batistuta lined up behind it and one of them would undoubtedly unleash a rocket. To be on the safe side we had about five players in the wall. Batistuta approached the ball and looked like he was about to strike, but he then stepped over the ball, leaving it for Veron who would surely have a crack. Confusion reigned in the area when Veron neatly tucked a pass to Zanetti who magically appeared from behind the England wall, turned sharply and scored. Half-time and it was all level. I still thought we could do it, despite having surrendered the lead.
However, early in the second half we effectively surrendered the game, when David Beckham decided to take a retaliatory kick at Diego Simeone for a foul the Argentinean had just committed. Many would argue that the referee had no choice but to send Beckham off. I thought it was harsh. Admittedly, it was wrong for Beckham to do it, but it was just a stupid bit of petulance rather than a serious attempt to hurt Simeone. Whatever your view, Beckham's dismissal seriously tipped the balance in Argentina's favour. Incidentally, Beckham was slaughtered by the press the next day and reviled by every football fan in the country. As I said earlier, fans can feed off each other and build things up out of proportion.
We battled on and in the 80th minute we had a perfectly good goal disallowed. Darren Anderton swung a corner over. Roa was nowhere to be seen and then Sol Campbell rose brilliantly at the far post to nod it in. However, the Danish referee decided that there had been an infringement in the area and effectively robbed us of the game.
It was still 2-2 after 90 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of extra time with both sides half-heartedly searching for a golden goal. We'd played well with 10 men and perhaps luck was on our side. However, there was something ominously familiar about our predicament. Major tournament, our most important match in said tournament - how will the game be decided? Penalties, of course.
It didn't seem to matter who took the penalties. The well established script for England penalty taking states quite clearly that someone would miss the all important fifth one. It wouldn't matter how much you shuffled the order of the players - the taker of the fifth penalty has to miss. That's the way it has to be. David Batty has always been seen as a reliable trustworthy kind of player - the kind of player who keeps to the script. He did. We were out.
It always takes a few days for the result to really sink in, and to start feeling normal again. It takes a while for you to regain your perspective and remember that, after all, it's only a bunch of men kicking a bag of wind about, isn't it?
I even went on to hope Argentina would win the tournament. It was unfashionable to like Argentina, but how could you fail to. They had a great team with some of the world's best individual players. I really wanted them to go on and win it. It had nothing to do with being able to excuse England by saying we went out to the eventual winners. Straight up.



Jon Wilkinson, May 2001

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