David Beckham received a red card during the game and faced heavy criticism back in England
David Beckham may have retired from soccer in 2013, but he remains one of the most famous sportspeople on the planet.
His rise from a young player at Manchester United to a global superstar is documented in the 2023 Netflix series, Beckham, which features never-before-seen footage and intimate interviews with Beckham, his family and teammates.
The docuseries also dives into one of Beckham's most pivotal points in his career: his controversial red card during the 1998 World Cup. The moment came in the round of 16, when England played Argentina. With the score at 2-2, Beckham received a red card for kicking at an opposing player, and England went on to lose the game after a penalty shoot-out.
England was eliminated from the competition as a result and Beckham faced heavy backlash back home. While he went on to become one of the greatest soccer players of his generation, playing for teams like Real Madrid, AC Milan and L.A. Galaxy, his red card — and its aftermath — is still an incident that lives long in the memory.
Here’s everything to know about what happened to David Beckham during the England vs. Argentina World Cup match in 1998 and the impact it has had on the soccer legend in the decades since.
England and Argentina have had a soccer rivalry for decades
Despite being on different continents, England and Argentina's national soccer teams have had a big rivalry for decades.
The rivalry first began in 1966, when the two teams met in the quarter-finals of the World Cup and England won 1-0. However, the match has since been dubbed el robo del siglo, or “the theft of the century” in Argentina, because the Argentina captain was sent off, and England’s sole goal by striker Geoff Hurst may have been an offside.
Then, the teams met in the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup — four years after the countries fought in the Falklands War — in which Argentina’s Diego Maradona famously scored by punching the ball into the goal with his hand before scoring again with a goal often considered one of the best in soccer history.
Victoria told David she was pregnant with Brooklyn the night before the 1998 match
In the 2023 Netflix documentary Beckham, the athlete's now-wife Victoria Beckham discussed the infamous match and revealed that she told David the night before the game that she was pregnant with the couple’s eldest child, Brooklyn.
Victoria explained that David wanted to leave to be with her after hearing the news, but he couldn’t. She said, “I told David the night before the game. He was so, so happy, we both were, and there was never any doubt in my mind that I should tell him. I mean, it was what we wanted and he could not have been happier.”
Beckham was given a red card for kicking a player
When England and Argentina met in the round of 16 at the 1998 World Cup, Beckham received a red card with the score at 2-2 and was subsequently thrown out of the game. Argentina's Diego Simeone initially fouled Beckham, and when Simeone stood up, he rubbed his knuckles against the back of Beckham’s head while the British star was lying with his face down.
In response, Beckham — who was still down on the ground — swung his leg out at Simeone, who then fell over. The referee, Kim Milton Nielsen, gave Beckham a red card.
England lost the match during a penalty shoot-out
After Beckham was sent off, England had to play the rest of the game with 10 men against Argentina's 11. With moments left in the match, England thought they’d scored through defender Sol Campbell, but Nielson blew his whistle because England's Alan Shearer had fouled Argentina’s goalkeeper, Carlos Roa, before the goal, so the goal didn’t count.
Because it was a tie, the game went to extra time and penalties. Argentina won the penalty shoot-out 4-3 after Roa saved two of England’s penalty kicks, knocking England out of the World Cup.
Beckham faced severe backlash from fans and the English media after the game
Following the game and England’s elimination from the tournament, Beckham faced heavy criticism. A headline from the Daily Mirror described the team as “10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy," and the outlet even published a dartboard with Beckham’s face as the bullseye in a July issue. According to the BBC, the Daily Mail called Beckham's action "lunacy" in its headline, while The Sun said it a "moment of madness."
Meanwhile, Beckham received death threats from fans and a Beckham effigy was hung outside a pub in London. When he returned to football with Manchester United after the World Cup, the team’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson was hit with stones and beer glasses, as fans shouted, “We hate Beckham” and “You let down your country," according to the Daily Express.
He said he felt let down by his teammates
Speaking to his former England and Manchester United teammate Gary Neville, who also played in the game against Argentina, on his podcast The Overlap in 2022, Beckham said that he felt let down by his England teammates not supporting him after his red card.
He said, “It’s probably harsh to say I still feel let down by that. I look back at that moment, and we were young. Yes, I made a mistake, but there are certain people in teams and in football that you expect to get behind you and expect to support you no matter what.”
However, Ferguson was one of the first people to offer support. Beckham told Neville, “The morning after, [Ferguson] phoned me early morning and he said, 'You OK son?' I said yes, and I think I got emotional to him as well. And he just said, 'Don't worry, go away for a few weeks ... come back to the club, and you've got us.' That was all I needed to hear."
Simeone later confessed that Beckham barely touched him on the field
In a 2002 interview with Observer Sport Monthly, per The Guardian, Simeone said that he deliberately tried to get Beckham sent off. He admitted, “I had tackled him, and we both fell to the ground. As I was trying to stand up that was when he kicked me from behind. And I took advantage of that. And I think any person would have taken advantage of that in just the same way."
The Argentina player continued, “Unfortunately for the English team that time they lost a player. Anyway, you take advantage of all the opportunities you find in your life.”
England and Beckham got their revenge four years later
While England and Argentina played each other in a friendly game in 2000, which finished 0-0, the two teams faced off in the group stage of the 2002 World Cup with Beckham as England's captain.
Beckham ultimately scored England's only goal during a penalty kick, and the team won 1-0. As a result, Argentina was eliminated from the tournament. Beckham was redeemed in the eyes of many fans after scoring the winning the goal, with The Times writing the next day that the soccer star “wakes with his halo brighter than ever."
Beckham has been honest about the impact the incident had on him
In the years since the controversial match, Beckham has discussed the toll the moment and its aftermath took on him. During a July 2020 conversation with Prince William on mental health, the soccer player said, “I made a mistake in ‘98 and the reaction at the time was pretty brutal."
He continued, "But I was lucky, I had a support system within Manchester United, the manager and obviously family. But did I feel it was okay at the time to go to someone and say I need help? No, because it was a different era, and I just felt that I had to keep it all in and deal with it myself. Whereas now, I’m the one preaching to my kids and to other kids that I talk to out there that it’s really important to talk."
Beckham and Simeone have made amends
In 2002, after Beckham scored the goal to knock Argentina out of the World Cup four years after his red card, he said that he’d buried the hatchet with Simeone. Sky Sports reported that Beckham said Simeone had tried to put him off before he scored his penalty, but that Simeone acted like a “gentleman” at half-time and shook his hand after the match. Beckham said that the two have a “mutual respect” for each other, with neither holding a grudge.
20 years later, Argentina won the World Cup. While both Beckham and Simeone had long been retired, the British soccer star reportedly posted a photo of him and Simeone on his Instagram Story, per TalkSport. He captioned the photo, “Congratulations my friend."
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