Zanetti: That free-kick against England? I wasn’t originally supposed to shoot!

Javier Zanetti has told FourFourTwo that he was not originally supposed to shoot from the famous free-kick routine that fooled England at the 1998 World Cup.

The Three Lions were poised to take a 2-1 lead into half-time of their last-16 clash against Argentina in Saint-Etienne, after an Alan Shearer penalty and Michael Owen's wonder goal had cancelled out Gabriel Batistuta's early spot-kick.

Batistuta lined up a 25-yard free-kick as la Albiceleste looked to level the tie, but instead the ball was played to Zanetti – lurking just behind England’s defensive wall – who expertly controlled it and swiftly blasted beyond David Seaman.

We practised it for four years, for as long as Daniel Passarella was the coach. What no one knows is that the original plan was for Ariel Ortega to shoot, not me

However, the legendary Inter Milan full-back has revealed that it hadn’t always been planned for him to take the shot at the end of the set-piece routine, as well as the fact that Argentina's players had been practising it for several years without any previous success.

Speaking exclusively in the July 2017 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, he says: “We practised it for four years, for as long as Daniel Passarella was the coach. What no one knows is that the original plan was for Ariel Ortega to shoot, not me.

“But as it had not worked before, Passarella came up to me at the World Cup and said, ‘You go and stand near the end of their wall’. I was lucky that, on the very first attempt, it went in and we got to the quarter-finals. I still remember the split-second I made the move and suddenly got the ball. Even though I had to shoot on my left foot, the strike felt perfect and I knew that it was going in.”

Portraits: Mattia Zoppellaro

I was lucky that, on the very first attempt, it went in and we got to the quarter-finals. I still remember the split-second I made the move and suddenly got the ball

David Batty’s saved spot-kick meant England exited a major tournament after a penalty shootout for the second time in three years, with reports after the game claiming that several members of the Argentina squad taunted their crestfallen foes from the team bus as they left the stadium. But Zanetti is quick to deny accusations of disrespect.

Not at all, [there was] absolutely no taunting,” he insists. “The game was intense as it was a World Cup decider, but there was no lack of respect, neither towards the English players nor their supporters.”

Read the full interview with Javier Zanetti in July 2017 issue of FourFourTwo, which is guest-edited by Barcelona star Lionel Messi and features the new boss discussing a selection of his career highlights. Also this month, we look back at the La Masia academy team that he played in – featuring Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique – and profile the other members of the 500-goal club, which Leo joined during the week that he edited the magazine. Plus, we talk Liverpool, La Decima and motorbikes with the recently-retired Xabi Alonso, visit Argentina on its 'weekend of derbies', hear how Ralf Rangnick has helped to lead RB Leipzig towards the top of the Bundesliga, and learn what Brexit will mean for football. Order it now, and then subscribe!