World Cup: Beckham penalty helps England beat Argentina

England 1 - Argentina 0

The demons which have cursed David Beckham's mind for four years were exorcised in dramatic fashion as the England captain held his nerve to strike a memorable World Cup penalty winner against Argentina.

Click on the links in the box below to see all the pictures from England v Argentina match, and how England's fans reacted.

Sven-Goran Eriksson had admitted that a game of this magnitude would prove just how big his team really are.

And despite their faltering initial display against Sweden, the answer when it mattered most against the might of Argentina was resounding.

This was the spirit of Munich written large inside the bizarre surroundings of Sapporo's indoor dome as England produced an inspired display of guts, character and class.

However, it was not just Beckham who rose to the challenge as he ensured memories of his 1998 red card were long forgotten as he led his team by example.

So too did the whole of Eriksson's side, with Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes both immense central figures and Trevor Sinclair sparkling in a surprise early substitute's role, while the defence were commanding late on.

As a result, England have transformed what had looked a qualifying struggle, needing a draw against Nigeria to make it through to the second round.

Eriksson had adopted a cautious strategy in replacing Darius Vassell with Butt and thereby attempting to smother Argentina's powerful midfield.

But how it worked.

Argentina held the edge early on but never made the most of it as Kily Gonzalez, who was a continual source of inspiration down their left flank, drove wide after an intricate build-up.

In fact, England's main problem was coping with the bursts of Gonzalez and Ariel Ortega whenever full-backs Danny Mills and Ashley Cole roamed forward and left space behind them.

Eriksson was also forced into an early reshuffle as Owen Hargreaves had to limp out of the action after just 18 minutes but the move possibly helped his side.

Scholes came into the centre alongside Butt and the Manchester United team-mates dominated the first half thereafter with a mixture of craft and graft.

Butt's long-range passing was a revelation and one low 40-yard ball sent Michael Owen flooding through the centre at full pelt.

This time he was caught by Walter Samuel but the Liverpool striker checked back inside and sent his shot through the defender's legs only to see the ball rebound agonisingly off the inside of the far post.

That still gave England extra heart and they were further buoyed by Sinclair, who had flown home only a fortnight beforehand but, after Danny Murphy's late injury, was now offering penetration down the left wing.

While Emile Heskey was on the fringes, so too was Beckham.

If Butt - in his first game for more than five weeks - was twice the player that some consider him to be, Beckham was producing at best half of his normal influence.

Then again, after a few scares as Gabriel Batistuta sent a header straight at David Seaman and Gonzalez volleyed over, the England captain's moment of truth finally arrived.

He was not found wanting.

Owen used his striker's guile to make the most of Mauricio Pochettino's clumsy challenge and won a penalty just as adeptly as he had done in St Etienne.

As Beckham stepped up, he passed Diego Simeone on

the way to the spot.

As he did so, the horrors of what missing the spot kick could mean to him, passed through the minds of every single England fan.

It did not bear thinking about.

However, while Beckham's penalty was hardly a classic in one sense - low and straight down the middle - it was so powerfully struck that it rocketed into the net.

England held their advantage to half-time, when Juan Sebastian Veron was replaced by Pablo Aimar, and almost extended when Owen's pace put him clear again and his shot skimmed past the far post.

Scholes cannoned a volley into keeper Pablo Cavallero, while Beckham forced himself into a scoring position by sheer force of will as much as anything else but shot just wide.

Heskey's frustration was ended when Eriksson wisely turned to the guile, experience and hold-up play of Teddy Sheringham, who almost immediately scored with an inspired volley that was tipped over.

The force was truly with Eriksson's side but still they could not give themselves any leeway.

On came Hernan Crespo for Batistuta with 30 nerve-wracking minutes still left, followed by Claudio Lopez, and it was now the time for even a young England side to show their character.

They had no shortage of chances, with Sinclair and Sheringham both threatening, but those came on the break as Argentina tightened the screw.

Luck was with Eriksson's side as the lively Aimar shot over and Pochettino was twice close with headers.

But he was also indebted to the calmness under pressure of David Seaman, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell, while Wayne Bridge replaced Owen to give greater security down England's left flank.

There were some heart-stopping moments and the final 20 minutes seemed to last a near eternity.

So many times before, England have come so close yet ultimately stumbled at that final hurdle.

Many challenges still lie ahead at this World Cup but, in Sapporo, this young team may just, memorably, have come of age.

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