98: England-Argentina – War minus the shooting

Great goals, seminal sendings off, penalty heartbreak, Mick Jagger: England vs Argentina had everything. Those involved tell Paul Simpson the story...

"After tonight, England v Argentina will be remembered for what a player did with his feet.” Adidas had thoughtfully plastered those words over David Beckham’s face in an advert published on the morning of Tuesday 30 June 1998, the day these two old, fractious rivals went head to head in Saint-Etienne in the last 16 of the World Cup.

A tad more blatant, the Daily Mirror ran a picture of Diego Maradona’s sucker punch and the headline: “8PM TONIGHT: PAYBACK TIME.” David Hope, the then Archbishop of York, revealed he was “rooting for England, hoping it will be the foot of an English footballer – rather than the hand of God – that will make the difference”. Adidas and the Archbishop were proved right – just not in the way they had hoped.

While England sought vengeance in the Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Argentina’s players weren’t all as pumped up. As midfielder Matias Almeyda put it: “A kind of el clasico has been created around England versus Argentina matches because of the Falklands/Malvinas war. But the real el clasico is when we play Brazil.” His skipper, tireless midfield enforcer Diego Simeone, didn’t agree: “Quite apart from the political history, the desire of the whole country is to defeat England.”

The fixture’s allure had intrigued Mick Jagger, conveniently between Rolling Stones gigs, who travelled down from Amsterdam to Saint-Etienne to watch the match. The television cameras would later show him clapping and singing along – but out of time – with England fans. Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, the British ambassador William Marsden invited colleagues, Argentinian friends and the media to watch the game over cocktails with embassy staff.

The tension was so unbearable even the diplomats couldn’t stay diplomatic. When Sol Campbell’s headed goal was disallowed, one Brit complained: “This isn’t a referee, it’s an Argentinian federal judge.” At the penalty shootout’s dismal climax, one very English voice shouted out: “Oh, f**king Batty.”

Silhouettes, Slough and St George: The build up

Marcela Mora y Araujo, Argentinian fan and football writer After it kicked off in Marseille, the British media had created a climate of fear. The night before the game, the French police turned off the lights in the main square, but loads of people gathered there awaiting the foretold explosion. Police cordoned off streets around the square, but access wasn’t denied. It was, a French officer shrugged, “at our own risk”. In the dark, you could just make out the swaying silhouettes filling the square. There were roars and ‘ahhs’ and occasional shouts. No actual fights took place. Most people had gone along expecting a catastrophe that had already been hyped out of proportion.

Chris Hunt, England fan, author of World Cup Stories and former editor of Match magazine By early afternoon on the day of the game, thousands of England fans were in town, some dressed as St George, drinking in the blistering heat. A few guys outside the railway station said tickets were changing hands for over £300, but they were convinced if they held their nerve until just before kick-off they’d get in for about £100. I saw them later and the plan had worked. It doesn’t happen like that any more.

Martin Mazur, Argentina fan, editor of El Grafico magazine At the Geoffroy Guichard end, English and Argentinian flags and banners were displayed altogether with no trouble. From the right, you could read ‘Campo Chico’, then ‘Wolves’, ‘Corrientes’, ‘Slough Spurs’, ‘Devoto’, ‘Piccadilly’... and so on. A few Argentinians who were surrounded by English fans dared to show a sky-blue flag with an inscription that read: ‘Malvinas Argentinas. Centro de Ex Combatientes de Malvinas en Ushuaia’. In other circumstances, this could have sparked disaster, but the banners all coexisted peacefully.

Araujo Jorge Valdano once said that England vs Argentina is the one fixture where the Mexican wave doesn’t stand a chance. I bumped into him before the match and he opened his eyes wide and said “I’m scared”. We were all scared – not of what of the fans might do but of the football. Even the weathered hacks were nervous. For once, that cliche about cutting the air with a knife rang true.

Hunt The Japanese guy I’d got my ticket from had bought a pretty good seat, yards from the pitch and a few seats from the England team’s families. We were penned in among a lot of Argentinians and watching the action through a 15-foot fence. It was just about light as the teams came out for kick-off. The atmosphere was astonishing. There really was a feeling among the fans that this was the year we were going to do it.Kicks and cards: The opening exchanges

Steve Rushin, Sports Illustrated journalist We ducked into a bar in Saint-Etienne so grimly utilitarian it only had the words ‘SNACK BAR’ stencilled on the windows. The entire bar sang God Save The Queen before kick-off. When Argentina scored from a penalty, they belted out a chorus of “If It Wasn’t For The English You’d Be Krauts” to the tune of If You’re Happy And You Know It.

Gabriel Batistuta (whose goal from the spot made him the top-scoring Argentinian in World Cup history) The idea of scoring to break the record didn’t cross my mind for a second during the game. I’d have traded my goal for a victory in 90 minutes, without suffering so much.

Michael Owen When I was running into their box, I was more checked than kicked. If that foul had been committed outside the area, nine times out of 10 it would’ve been a free-kick, in the area it has to be a stone-cold certainty. So I’m still not certain mine was a penalty. But Hoddle did not tell me to go down if I was nudged in the area.

Glenn Hoddle The penalty wasn’t cast iron. But for their penalty, David Seaman had been booked so I was expecting the defender who’d brought Owen down to get a yellow or a red. Nothing happened. I said to the fourth official politely: “Where’s the card?” There was little I could do from the bench but I asked Incey to have a word with the referee. What did the ref do? He booked Paul Ince. I went berserk at the fourth official. I was so mad I was sitting down when Alan ran up to take the penalty and still sitting when the ball hit the back of the net. At that point, I thought it was a sign something was going to go wrong.Slaloms, Scholes and songs: Owen’s wonder goal and Zanetti’s cunning riposte

Araujo Suddenly, as if he had grown a pair of wings, Owen took off gliding like an Olympic skier doing the giant slalom, each tilt of his body absolutely perfect. It was as if there was nothing else going on, just him and the ball. The Argentina defenders must have been equally mesmerised – he passed them one by one with no hesitation, totally in control, unstoppable. It felt like he was running towards me! Which he was. Just in front of me, the net bulged with the ball’s impact. Behind us there was stone-cold silence. I glanced behind me. My cousin and some mates were standing there. We shook our heads, smiling at the knowledge that we had just seen beauty, albeit against us.

Owen The defenders were back-pedalling because they didn’t want me to run at them again from deep. By the time I let rip, I’d run 20 or 30 yards. When you run that far at full pace, the defender has no chance. Anxiety and confusion were telling Ayala to pull back. By the time I pushed the ball across him, it was impossible for him to stop me from his standing start. Just then I saw Paul Scholes on my right, shouting either “Leave it!” or “Scholesy’s”. I wasn’t going to respond to the call. When I finally struck it, the keeper Carlos Roa had raced off his line so there wasn’t much space to work in, but I clipped it hard and fast towards the far corner.

Rushin The Snack Bar went barmy. I was knocked to the ground but recovered to sing “Michael Owen scores the goals Al-le-loo-oo-ia!” to the tune of Michael Rows The Boat Ashore.

Diego Maradona In my mind, Owen was the only good thing to come out of France 98. He had speed, cunning and balls.

Mazur Jose Chamot must still have nightmares about Owen. At that moment, Owen was playing like he was Maradona. But Zanetti’s goal was a masterclass in deception from a set-piece. Sublime.

Hoddle We saw the goal coming from the bench. As they shaped up to take it Peter Taylor shouted: “Look down the wall. There’s a dangerman out wide.” We saw Ortega lurking to the right, alongside the wall. I was standing up, screaming, trying to alert Graeme [Le Saux]. He was aware of Ortega, and knew he had to keep an eye on him, but the gap between them was too big. John [Gorman] had this sick, sinking feeling. He knew they’d score.The foot of Beckham: England sees red

Diego Simeone Let’s just say the referee fell into the trap, a difficult one for him to avoid because I went down well and in moments like that there’s always a lot of tension. You could say my falling turned a yellow card into a red. The most appropriate punishment was a yellow. I was just being clever. It wasn’t a violent blow, just a little kick back with no force behind it and was probably instinctive. The referee was two steps away and probably punished the intention to retaliate.

David Seaman Beckham was conned into making a mistake. It was a bad tackle by Simeone and, when he was on the floor, Simeone shoved Becks’s head into the grass. Becks lost his head and flicked his foot up at him. The sending off was harsh but Becks was stupid to put the ref on the spot.

Hoddle When I saw it, I just thought: ‘What are you doing?’ How many times had we warned him about such behaviour? I was expecting a yellow card. But it was red for violent conduct. However mad I was with David, I was furious with the referee.

Owen If Simeone had done the flicking and David had been kicked, there’d have been no dismissal. David wouldn’t have rolled around on the ground.

Graeme Le Saux It isn’t hard to connect David’s sending off and Glenn’s treatment of David. Glenn may have harboured frustrations about his playing career – sometimes his training was all about showing you how it should be done. And he’d criticised David for not mastering a free-kick. The general feeling was that David deserved to be in the team for his performances and training, but Glenn felt he wasn’t properly focused and played Darren Anderton against Tunisia and Romania. If Hoddle had judged David’s character accurately, he’d have chosen his words more carefully. But he created this seething resentment in David. It was only a matter of time until David blew it.

David Beckham I know how disappointed the fans and players were. What I wasn’t ready for, at 23 years of age, was for all the blame of that defeat to be laid on me.

Hunt I remember my disbelief that he could have been so stupid. I was yards away from his parents and sister and moments after he left the pitch his sister dashed out looking close to tears. She reappeared minutes later looking solemn. Maybe she knew that people were about to start hanging effigies of her brother outside the pubs of England.

Mazur Beckham’s dismissal was controversial. Simeone overreacted. The referee was a disaster. But the tension was unbelievable. At one point, we thought it was all over. From where we were, Sol Campbell’s goal looked completely legal. We could see no foul.

Seaman Having watched the video, it was definitely a foul by Alan [Shearer] on the keeper. Alan went up for the ball but his arm hits the keeper. Apart from that, very little went on in the penalty area. The game seemed to go on forever, with our lads getting more knackered.

Paul Merson I’d have been gutted to lose to a goal like that. I’d heard the whistle as Sol headed home. When he ran by me in celebration, I wondered where the hell he was going while play was going on.

Daniel Passarella We kept trying to attack England down the middle, instead of on the flanks. That’s probably why we didn’t score a winning goal.And now, the end is near: The shootout

Araujo You could almost hear heartbeats speeding up. It felt eternal, painful, like penalty shootouts often are, but more so. I was riveted by how close to the action I was. The players’ legs, the blades of turf, every hiss of the ball, it was all there.

Hoddle Some players weren’t up for it. Shearer, Owen and Merse were all certainties. David Batty was up for it. He was very, very confident. He told me he’d never taken one before, but it didn’t matter. You ’d rather have someone who’s up for it.

Rushin Before the grim vigil of penalties, many in the Snack Bar turned their backs on the TV, unable to look.

Alan Shearer David told me he was going to smash it down the middle. For some reason he changed his mind and put it to the keeper’s right. Changing your mind at the last second is a crime on a penalty. But he was brave enough to take it.

Julian Barnes, novelist With his side on the verge of extinction, David Batty, who had never taken a penalty in his life before, juggled the ball over jauntily and flopped his kick straight into the keeper’s midriff. He said afterwards “When I knew I was the fifth man I envisioned stepping up to thump the last one in. I had positive thoughts all the way and it was only when I saw the Argentinians celebrating that I realised we were out.” On hearing this, 
a despairing voice at my elbow commented: “Can’t bloody count”.

 

Al Batty, father of David Mary and I got the shock of our lives when David was asked to take a penalty. Neither of us expected David to score.

Le Saux I can still see David’s little skip of despair at the instant he sees the keeper parry it. It was terribly cruel on him.

Hunt I’ve seen some England defeats over the years, but that was definitely the hardest to take – possibly because I’d been so certain the World Cup had our name on it. To this day I’ve never been able to watch replays of the game or the penalties.Tears, prayers and jesters: The aftermath

Passarella During and after the game, I thought a lot of my son [his 18-year-old son Sebastian had died in a car accident], this victory was dedicated to him. England respected their character and football philosophy and troubled us at certain moments. It was a game played with open hearts, intensity and rhythm, with two teams showing great character to come back. It was as exciting as a game of football can be. To send the English packing was wonderful.

Tony Adams I admired Beckham for crying. I was first back in the dressing room and he was in tears. I went over to him and said, “It’s all your f**king fault, you idiot! That was my last chance to do well in the World Cup and you’ve ruined it”. He looked at me, eventually saw I was half joking. It broke the depression slightly.

Araujo The stadium emptied in minutes, but the mobile TV units were heaving with personalities. Ian Wright sat alone, looking forlorn. We asked him for a reaction for Argentinian TV.  “Sorry mate,” he shook his head kindly, “Not now.”

Hunt I couldn’t move for 15 minutes after the penalties. The only people left were the players’ families, waiting despondently for an escort out of the ground, and a few dozen dancing Argentinians. I remember thinking that this just wasn’t a day when I wanted someone in a blue-and-white jester hat to be blowing a large plastic horn in my face.

Elias Perugino, Argentine journalist During the celebrations, the Argentine physio Angel Castro, who’d been with the team for 30 years, dropped his Virgin Mary prayer card. Castro was devastated, crying, “Now, I will die, the prayer card has been with me in every World Cup, where did it go?” Next to him was a human mountain of players and staff with Passarella at the bottom wearing his best suit. The human mountain eventually collapsed. Passarella had the card in his hand and said: “Angel, it’s here, don’t worry, save it for the next game, we’re gonna need it.”

 

Franz Beckenbauer The 55th game of this World Cup finals was the best, certainly the most dramatic. David Beckham was red-carded for stupidity – losing your cool like that is unforgiveable. And yet England fought hard and got a draw after two great goals. First, there was that incredible run by Michael Owen, who was only 18 but as clinical as a veteran. Argentina’s equaliser was worth a look, too: a nice variation on a free-kick coolly converted by Javier Zanetti. Then came the sequel to the never-ending story of English penalty tragedies. Still, a tip of the hat to England.

Carlos Roa It was the best performance of my career. Listening to the national anthem before a World Cup game makes you feel pumped up, you feel like a patriot. And if you’re about to play England, so much the better. Two countries with a conflict behind us, in a kill-or-die game. You hear that history is forgotten, that a game is just a game. Well, it’s a lie. In England, the defeat was like a bomb. Just as it would have been in Argentina if we’d lost.

Le Saux The Argentina players were already on the bus, which was next to ours. They were really rocking, waving out of the windows, screaming with delight. They weren’t blatantly mocking us, just celebrating like crazy – like we would have done. Some England players reacted aggressively – Incey and the like, the usual suspects. There was a lot of gesturing and name calling.

Hunt It was like Armageddon at the station, a crush of England fans trying to get any train out of Saint-Etienne. The fans on the night blamed Beckham, not David Batty or the penalties.

Rushin Some fans in the Snack Bar were slumped over tables, others ran into the streets. As we left town after midnight, three sounds came from every precinct: the barking of dogs, the breaking of glass and the donkey bray of French police sirens: ee-yore, ee-yore, ee-yore.

Daily Mirror headline the following day ‘10 heroic lions, one stupid boy.’ 

FEATURE: The most politically charged game in World Cup history

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