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Beckham ready for old enemy

Wednesday, May 29th 2002 - 21:00 UTC
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The England football captain, David Beckham, has been declared fit to play in the World Cup in plenty of time to prepare for the clash with the old enemy, Argentina, on June 7th, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of the final phase of the Falklands War.

The broken foot he suffered several weeks ago is now completely healed to allow him to resume full training to get match fit. He is looking forward to the match that is getting so much advance publicity in the United Kingdom. He is a much wiser and more disciplined player since he was sent off in disgrace in the 1998 World Cup match for tripping up Diego Siemone.

He will not again retaliate petulantly to that kind of incitement by Simeone. Beckham, now England's inspirational captain, says: I'm sure they will try to wind me up. There's a bit of that on both sides but I believe I'm above all that now. It's a great chance to lay the ghost of 1998".

"200 years of hate"

One newspaper, headlining the Anglo-Argentine rivalry as "200 Years of Hate", says the passions that accompany this fixture are permeated by the historical overtones of the 1982 Falklands conflict. Maradona, it says, is one of the many who have failed to distinguish between the horror of war and banality of football.

It quotes him as saying: "Our win in 1986 was revenge for the Falklands. We said you should not mix football and the war but it was a lie. That was all we thought about. It went beyond winning a match, beyond knocking England out of the World Cup. We blamed the English players for everything that had gone on, for all the suffering. It sounds crazy but that is how we felt. We were defending our flag, the lads who died, the survivors. It was like beating a country, not a football team".

Despite having scored what many English footballers and fans acknowledge as one of the best goals in football history against England in that 1986 quarter final, Maradona talks in reverent tones about his handball which opened the scoring. "I loved that goal", he is quoted as saying. "I loved it almost as much as I loved the other. It was like stealing a wallet off the English".

Economic crisis a spur

The news stories in the UK recall the English invasions of Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807 and say that more than 200 years of history are diffused into 90 minutes of football and the Argentines enjoy beating the English more than anyone. And this time, the Argentine team have the added incentive of wanting to cheer up their luckless countrymen suffering bankrupt Argentina's chronic economic crisis, which has left them little to cheer about at home.

Simeone, who has 104 caps for his country, says:" The game in 1998 was the best international I have played in. I love playing against the English. They are so passionate, so aggressive, so committed".

This time the Argentines are aware of the threat posed by Michael Owen, Liverpool's young striker, earning the accolade in Argentina of "el pibe", the slight player who can beat bigger opponents through speed and skill. Scoring his exquisite goal four years ago, he surprised world-class defenders such as Roberto Ayala and Jose Chamot by his pace.

This time he is likely to be marked by Walter Samuel, the muscular Roma centre half, acknowledged by the England team as a superb player and robust defender who relishes intimidating opponents.

Danger man Veron

Juan Sebastian Veron is widely regarded as a danger man to England despite his comparatively poor performance as Beckham's team mate in Manchester United, which will only spur him to greater effort to disprove his English critics. And Argentina are likely to be too focused, calculating and disciplined to indulge in too much fancy dribbling, what Simeone says they called "jugar a la pelota" when they played as children in the streets.

British newspapers and television programmes are featuring pictures of the Argentine and England players in action, and recalling other controversial clashes, including 1966 (the year England won the Cup) when Argentine captain Antonio Rattin was sent off and the England coach described the Argentine team as "animals", as well as Diego Maradona's controversial 1986 "Hand of God" goal, and Beckham's sending off in 1998.

England has not beaten Argentina since 1980, and the current Argentine team is regarded not just as the best in South America but the best in the world.

Harold Briley, London

Categories: Falkland Islands.

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