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Wednesday, May 3, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: May 5, 2:03 PM UK
2002 - England's Eastern promise

Dominic Raynor

England's qualification for World Cup 2002 is a story of one player's triumph from adversity. David Beckham - villain of St Etienne to saviour at Old Trafford.

Beckham had faced a storm of criticism and abuse from fans who blamed him for the 1998 World Cup exit, but answered his critics the following season as he helped Manchester United to the amazing treble of Premiership, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.

His efforts won him second place, behind Rivaldo, in the voting for both World and European Player of the Year, and in November 2000 he was made England skipper by caretaker-boss Peter Taylor.

When Sven Goran Eriksson was installed as permanent manager in 2001, Beckham retained the captaincy to lead England on their roller-coaster ride to qualification for World Cup Korea/Japan 2002.

Former England great Kevin Keegan had started the campaign as manager - and it began in drab style with a 1-0 defeat against Germany in the last game played at Wembley, prompting him to resign.

Howard Wilkinson took temporary charge but only managed a 0-0 draw away to Finland and so, with only the return legs of those games and matches against Greece and Albania remaining, qualification hopes looked to be foundering.

Enter Eriksson, Beckham and Michael Owen. That trio helped get qualification back on track - the pinnacle a historic 5-1 win over Germany in Munich - but one final hurdle remained. England needed a draw against Greece at Old Trafford to top the group and avoid a play-off against another group runner-up.

With Greece leading 2-1 in the 93rd minute Beckham - whose performance in the match had been little short of incredible - smashed home a free-kick to send England to the 2002 finals and complete a personal renaissance from national villain to hero.

But with England preparing to head to the world Cup on a high the squad was hit by a number of injuries.

The first blow came when Beckham limped out of a challenge with Argentine defender Aldo Duscher, during Manchester United's Champions League semi-final clash with Deportivo Coruna, with a broken metatarsal in his left foot.

With England manager Sven Goran Eriksson set to announce his Finals squad only 25 days later the nation were literally urged to pray, while cutting edge technology attempted to the captain's foot in record time.

Beckham had a special football boot made and after a few tentative steps on the training pitch a half-fit Beckham was named in the squad in the hope he would recover his best form during the course of the competiton - he never did.

The metatarsal then became a curse on the England team as right-back Gary Neville was ruled out with the injury and Liverpool's Danny Murphy also withdrew from the squad after breaking his in training. Back-up midfielder Trevor Sinclair hastily flew back to Japan as cover.

A patched up England kicked off in the Far East with two friendlies. World Cup co-hosts South Korea provided Sven's squad with a 1-1 wake-up call as Ji-Sung Park equalised Owens' opener. Robbie Fowler saved England's blushes with an injury time equaliser against Nigeria to make it 2-2 in the second friendly.

Two pre-tournament draws hardly filled the England camp with confidence but they went into the 2002 finals 'Group of Death' with Argentina, Nigeria and Sweden unbeaten and with Beckham on course to be fit for the opening match.

The England captain recovered enough to lead out the team out against the Swedes at the Saitama Stadium, to win his 50th cap. It was his corner that provided Sol Campbell with his first international goal as England took a 1-0 lead after 24 minutes.

But Eriksson's compatriots fought back to force veteran keeper David Seaman into a series of good saves before Niclas Alexandersson hit a 59th minute leveller to make the final score 1-1.

As England England drew with Sweden their next opponents Argentina were beat Nigeria 1-0 to take control of the Group F and up the ante for the June 7 clash in Sapporo between two arch-rivals.

In the early stages of a volatile match Javier Zanetti caught Owen Hargreaves with a tackle which left the Bayern Munich man needing extensive treatment, and eventually forced him off altogether.

Gabriel Batistuta got booked for a brutal late challenge on Ashley Cole, then lead with an elbow when challenging for header with Beckham, and Cole exacted revenge with a crude tackle on Ariel Ortega.

But in the end it was Beckham who completed a personal revenge mission to blast England to victory with a badly-takne 42nd minute spot-kick after Owen, who also hit the post, won a penalty.

Argentina pressed for an equaliser as fulltime neared but couldn't find a way through a massed defence and England grabbed their first win over their arch-rivals since 1966.

With Sweden beating Nigeria 2-1, England's result meant they only needed one point against the already eliminated Super Eagles to book their place in the last 16.

England looked nervy against the Africans, and with Nigeria just going through the motions, the game in Osaka ended in a drab 0-0 draw.

Elsewhere in the group an Anders Svensson freekick gave Sweden a 1-1 draw against Argentina as the Latin American, pre-tournament favourites crashed out and the Scandinavians topped Group F.

England finished as runners-up and faced Denmark in the last sixteen in Niigata on June 15.

Niigata's Big Swan Stadium was awash with England fans - thanks mainly to Beckham's high-profile in the Far East - as nerves got the better of Danish keeper Thomas Sorensen and he fumbled Rio Ferdinand's poor header into the back of the net to gift England with an early lead.

Owen and Emile Heskey also got on the score sheet before half-time as England cruised to a 3-0 triumph, their biggest win in the World Cup finals, to set up a quarter-final with either Belgium or Brazil.

The nation was split as to who they would prefer England to face in Shizuokaon on June 21. The more sensible wanted Belgium to be the opposition but the tantalising prospect of an England-Brazil clash proved too much for many and when the Samba Boys beat Belgium 2-0 the scene was set for a great quarter-final.

England looked on course for their first win over Brazil since 1984's 2-0 triumph in the Estadio Maracana when Owen latched onto a Heskey throughball, via a Lucio blunder, and slotted calmly past a sprawling Marcos with only 23 minutes on the clock.

But with England looking comfortable Brazil struck back on the stroke of half-time. Ronaldinho swept forward, Cole was dragged out of position, neither Ferdinand nor Sol Campbell were able to make a tackle, Rivaldo drifted to the right, took the easy pass and stroked a first-time shot into the corner. Brazil had levelled two minutes into injury time.

After the break Ronaldinho lined up a free-kick in an innocuous position as England 'keeper David Seaman pulled away from his line expecting a cross. The Brazilian crossed the ball into the box from 35 yards out, it sailed over a back-pedalling Seaman and into the top corner with the aid of the crossbar.

Brazil were 2-1 up and England were behind for the first time during the tournament and chasing the game against opponents lethal on the counter.

Eriksson's side had been ineffective as an attacking force in the second-half in previous matches and it proved to be the case again as a tired looking England failed to trouble Brazil, despite Ronaldinho being sent-off for stamping on Danny Mills.

The Three Lions had failed to muster response and toppled out of the competition with something of a whimper.

Eriksson's side had done well but the lack of a fight back against Brazil, who went on to win the World Cup with a 2-0 victory over surprise finalists Germany, left a sour end to decent campaign.

On returning to England Seaman shouldered the majority of the blame for England's exit, following his mistake from Ronaldinho's freekick, and the veteran retired before England embarked on their next World Cup assault.

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