Nearly 80,000 England fans rise to their feet and applaud. It may be an unfamiliar No17 on the back of his shirt, but the crowd know who is about to enter the fray. David Beckham takes the place of Aaron Lennon and steps on to the hallowed Wembley turf for his 115th – and final – appearance in a Three Lions shirt.
The date is 14 October 2009, the opposition Belarus, and the 34-year-old makes an immediate impact. He tees up Shaun Wright-Phillips from a short corner for England’s second of the night and goes on to hit the post in the final 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifier for Fabio Capello’s side.
In that game against Belarus, Beckham extended his record for most appearances for an outfield player for England (115), set the record for most appearances for a player outside the English league system (55) and the record for most appearances in competitive matches (68). The former England captain made a loan move to AC Milan in January 2010, with the hope of taking his place in Capello’s final 23 for South Africa, but it was not to be. Beckham snapped his Achilles in March that year while playing for *I Rossoneri *and, despite not formally retiring from England duty, never played for his country again before hanging up his boots in 2013.
To celebrate a memorable 13-year international career, FIFA.com takes a look back at five of Beckham’s finest moments in an England shirt.
1 September 1996, Moldova 0-3 England (1998 World Cup qualifying)
For one who is often associated with the glamorous side of the beautiful game, Beckham’s first appearance for England came in rather humble surroundings. The Three Lions’ opening match in qualifying for France 1998 came in Chisinau against Moldova. Less than 10,000 were there to see Glenn Hoddle hand a debut to the young Manchester United man in his first game in charge. Beckham, wearing the No7 that he would make his own, had a solid debut, playing the full 90 minutes as England strolled to victory. The 21-year-old would complete a memorable month by scoring his famous goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon less than three weeks later. He went on to play in all eight qualifiers as England reached France 1998 as Group 2 winners.
*26 June 1998, Colombia 0-2 England (France 1998)
*Despite playing a crucial role in getting England to France, the summer of 1998 started and ended badly for the Three Lions’ No7. Hoddle criticised Beckham’s focus at the beginning of the tournament and subsequently dropped him from his starting XI for the opening win against Tunisia and defeat to Romania. Going into the crucial final group game against Colombia, England needed a win, or they would leave a World Cup at the opening stage for the first time in four decades. Beckham duly started and proved a point to Hoddle, dispatching a perfect free-kick past Faryd Mondragon for his first goal in an England shirt to cap a bustling, all-action performance in a 2-0 win. England duly progressed to the Round of 16. “He really didn't have his mind concentrated on the World Cup,” Hoddle insisted after the Colombia game. “But now he has and that's why I chose him.” Beckham started the knockout clash against Argentina four days later but famously failed to finish it. He was sent off at the beginning of the second half of normal time, with England going out on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
15 November 2000, Italy 1-0 England (International friendly)*
*Kevin Keegan stunned a nation when he resigned as England manager after the final game at the old Wembley Stadium, a rain-soaked 1-0 defeat to Germany in October 2000. A new era beckoned, and Peter Taylor named a much-changed squad just over a month later to face Italy, announcing Beckham as his captain. Beckham proceed to lead by example. He tested Gianluigi Buffon from range, found Gareth Southgate from a pinpoint corner and acted maturely when Gennaro Gattuso attempted to antagonise him. A stunning Gattuso effort cannoned in off the bar in the second half but the result did not matter – England manager-in-waiting Sven Goran Eriksson had seen enough to be impressed by Beckham’s maiden game as captain. He handed him the armband on a full-time basis after taking charge in early 2001. “To be captain of the team - an extremely important team - is very important,” Eriksson said after appointing Beckham. “He is a good player first of all. He can become a leader. I am sure this will work out well with David.”
6 October 2001, England 2-2 Greece (2002 World Cup qualifying)*
*After Eriksson had turned around England’s fortunes with five straight World Cup qualifying wins, most notably a 5-1 thumping of Germany in Munich, the Three Lions were in control heading into their final Group 9 game against Greece at Old Trafford. If they matched Germany’s result against Finland in the final day’s other match, England would reach Korea/Japan as group winners, avoiding a difficult play-off against Ukraine. However, Angelos Charisteas put the visitors in front in the first half and a tense crowd in Manchester anticipated the worst, with the Germany game goalless. Captain Beckham tried to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, covering the pitch like a man possessed. A second-half free-kick from the No7 was met by substitute Teddy Sheringham, whose glanced header drew his side level. Demis Nikolaidis duly put Greece 2-1 up seconds later. Beckham did not give up though, and after failing with five dead-ball efforts at goal, lined up a free-kick in the third minute of injury time, around 30 yards from goal. The then Manchester United midfielder curled a perfect strike past the static Greek No1 to send the Old Trafford crowd into ecstasy. News filtered through that Germany’s game had finished level and as a result, Beckham’s dramatic late contribution had sent England to the World Cup.
7 June 2002, Argentina 0-1 England (Korea/Japan 2002)*
*Fittingly, for somebody who would later go on to move to Los Angeles, one of Beckham’s most show-stopping moments in an England shirt would not look out of place in a Hollywood script. After almost single-handedly dragging England to Korea/Japan with his performance against Greece, Beckham would meet an opponent against whom he suffered the nadir of his international career. Argentina awaited in the second Group F match. After an encouraging opening period for England, in which Michael Owen had already hit the post, the No10 jinked into the Albiceleste penalty area and was felled by Mauricio Pochettino. Pierluigi Collina pointed to the spot and there was only one man for the job. Beckham grabbed the ball and placed it on the spot. The world watched. The captain slammed the penalty home and celebrated with fervour. Beckham had exorcised the demons of that red card four years previously, as England held out to claim three points. England progressed from Group F with a goalless draw against Nigeria, while Argentina were eliminated. Beckham and England went on to the quarter-finals, where they would be knocked out by eventual winners Brazil.