Argentina had put behind them the disappointing scandals of the 1994 World Cup, and coach Daniel Passarella had assembled a strong team with a list of strong players from some of the top clubs in the world. Some of these players included Sampdoria’s Juán Sebastián Verón, Valencia’s Ariel Ortega and Claudio López, Napoli’s Roberto Ayala, Inter’s Diego Simeone and Javier Zanetti, as well as some extraordinary strikers, notably Fiorentina’s Gabriel Batistuta and Parma’s Hernán Crespo.
In spite of the awesome quantity of quality players, the team had been immersed in controversy, not least because of Passarella’s discipline: players were told to cut their hair or they would be out of the team, something that meant the exit of Fernando Redondo and Troglio. Also, there had been controversy regarding rumours of doping and internal disagreements.
Still, Argentina seemed a team in harmony and very strong, starting the tournament with three victories against Japan, Jamaica and Croatia and a score of 7-0.
After not participating in the 1994 World Cup England was now coached by the former star player Glenn Hoddle, and had qualified ahead of Italy in a close group. The team was good, with players from all the strong teams in the Premier League, notably Machester United’s David Beckham, Newcastle’s dangerous striker Alan Shearer, and Liverpool’s Steve McManaman and Paul Ince. Also, the squad included Michael Owen from Liverpool, an 18-year old rising star who already in his first season for Liverpool had been top scorer in the Premier League, and had in may in a friendly match against Morocco already become the youngest player to score for England.
Glenn Hoddle had on the other hand left out players such as Paul Gascoigne (who went into a rage and had to be restrained when he learned that he had not been selected for the squad) and Phil Neville.
Although it was certainly a team to be reckoned with, the English were not as awesome as other teams, and they didn’t necessarily impress in the first round: after opening with an obligatory 2-0 win over Tunisia, the English went on to lose 2-1 against Romania. In this match Michael Owen, who had been left out in the opening match, had come on and scored England’s goal. He had thus started in for the next match against Colombia, where England won 2-0, with David Beckham scoring a beautiful free kick goal.
Now Argentina and England, who had last faced one another in a World Cup in the legendary 1986 quarterfinal, were to face one another again in the last-16, and the entire attention of the football-world immediately shifted to this match in Saint-Étienne.
The match started dramatically: after five minutes Argentina went ahead when the outstanding Fiorentina striker Gabriel Batistuta brought Argentina ahead 1-0 on a penalty kick.
But England had in fact started with the best pace, and four minutes later, Newcastle’s Alan Shearer equalized for England after a penalty kick after the 18-year old young Michael Owen was brought down by Roberto Ayala. It looked very much like a dive by the young Englishman, but the Danish referee Kim Milton gave the penalty anyway.
The match was thus levelled when the 18-year old Michael Owen took matters into his own feet, and scored one of the best goals of world cup history only 16 minutes into the first half: he received a long ball in the Argentine half and slalomed his way towards goal, outrunning the Argentinean defender José Chamot, and elegantly getting around Roberto Ayala in full speed, he kicked the ball perfectly into goal with no chance for the goalkeeper Carlos Roa.
It was incredible work by the youngster, and England was ahead.
The match moved back and forth, with chances for both teams, but nothing happened until the very last minute of the first half; Argentina was given a free kick just outside the English penalty area. In a set kick, Juán Sebastián Verón completely surprised the English defense when, instead of shooting on goal he passed the ball to Inter’s Javier Zanetti standing inside the English area just at the edge of the defensive wall, who turned quickly and elegantly curved the ball around the English goalkeeper David Seaman.
2-2 at halftime in what had been a splendid first half, and the second half started with drama: Diego Simeone had made a foul against Beckham, who in frustration kicked out after Diego Simeone. The Argentinean totally overdid his pain, but the Danish referee was standing right next to the situation, and gave Simeone a yellow card and David Beckham a direct red card.
Beckham’s reaction was obviously thoughtless, and he was blamed for the eventual loss: a headline described the team as: "10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy”, while Beckham for months was followed by hateful taunts wherever he went in England. It was probably a period that matured the elegant and posh player, as he had to win back the confidence of his fans (and he eventually did, as all great players do, acting with more modesty and concentrating on his excellent footballing skills).
England was now pushed back on the defensive against the experienced Argentineans. Indeed, England defended heroically, and even managed to get some big chances, among them an annulled goal by the Tottenham defender Sol Campbell.
The dramatic match ended 2-2, and when the extra time ended goalless, the match had to go into what was a nerve wrecking penalty shootout.
It was looking good for England when the Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman saved Argentina’s second shot, by Hernán Crespo. However, the kicks were levelled already on the next shot when Carlos Roa saved the shot from Liverpool’s Paul Ince.
Everybody scored on the following kicks right up to when Newcastle’s David Batty was to kick the last penalty for England, at the score 4-3 for Argentina. Carlos Roa saved, which meant that Argentina won.
While England went home, Argentina fell in the next round against the Netherlands 2-1 (the victory goal by Dennis Bergkamp was one of the best goals in World Cup history). This quarterfinal between England and Argentina was thus not a match between the two best teams in the world; but the drama, the media hype and the fact that some of the best players in the world were there (and notably Beckham to make the mistake that oddly made him so unpopular in England) turned this into another match to add to the mounting classics of this the only cross-Atlantic rivalry that goes far beyond football; it is about something much deeper that England and Argentina have more in common that any other nations on planet-football: football-passion and –arrogance.
- 30th June 1998, Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne
- Attendance: 30,600
- Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)
Goals: 1-0 Batistuta (6) (pen)1-1 Shearer (10) (pen)1-2 Owen (16)2-2 Zanetti (45)
- 1-0 Berti
- 1-1 Shearer
- Crespo misses for Argentina
- Ince misses for England
- 2-1 Verón
- 2-2 Merson
- 3-2 Gallardo
- 3-3 Owen
- 4-3 Ayala
- Batty misses for England
Argentina: Roa; Ayala, Chamot, Almeyda, Simeone (Berti), Ortega, Verón, Vivas, Zanetti, Batistuta (Gallardo), López (Crespo)
England: Seaman; Campbell, Le Saux (Southgate), Ince, Adams, Beckham (RC 47), Neville, Anderton (Batty), Scholes (Merson), Shearer, Owen