The FIFA World Cup™ is the biggest show on earth; the holy grail for players from every corner of the globe. Before the international elite can convene at football's top table, however, titanic battles are fought by some of the game's top nations merely for the right to be there. With qualifying for South Africa 2010 well underway, FIFA.com is looking back at the individual brilliance and never-to-be forgotten upsets that have defined preliminary campaigns of the past.
Today we turn to October 2001 and a day when qualification for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan reached a nailbiting conclusion.
6 October 2001, Old Trafford, Manchester
England 2-2 Greece
Scorers: England: (Sheringham 68, Beckham 90+3) Greece: (Charisteas 36, Nikolaidis 69)
*England: Martyn, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Keown, Ashley Cole, Beckham, Gerrard, Scholes, Barmby, Fowler, Heskey. Subs: Southgate, Wright, Carragher, Murphy, McManaman, Sheringham, Andy Cole. Greece: *Nikopolidis, Patsatzoglou, Dabizas, Vokolos, Costas Konstantinidis, Fissas, Zagorakis, Kassapis, Karagounis, Charisteas, Nikolaidis. Subs: Venetidis, Basinas, Georgiadis, Chalkias, Lakis, Machlas, Vrizas.
At the start of the day, England were one point clear of old rivals Germany at the top of Group 9, but were looking for a win over Greece to confirm their place at the section's summit. However, not everything went according to plan for Sven-Goran Eriksson and his men.
After the euphoria of the 5-1 victory in Germany the previous September and a disciplined win over Albania, defeat at the hands of a side which had lost all three of their Group 9 away games would have been a bitter pill to swallow. A difficult two legged encounter with Ukraine was awaited the runners-up in Group 9.
There was an amazing climax to this nail-biting encounter in which England's character was tested to the limit. Teddy Sheringham, a second half substitute, looked to have rescued England once again when he headed Eriksson's side level with his first touch just ten seconds after coming on for Robbie Fowler.
It was a dream return to Old Trafford for the 35-year-old former Manchester United striker, whose deft touch cancelled out Angelos Charisteas' first-half opener, but the joy was short lived. Within a minute, England's nervous defence had succumbed to the lively Greeks again, Demis Nikolaidis shrugging off Rio Ferdinand to fire them in front again.
The Three Lions were trailing Greece 2-1 deep into injury time and looked destined for the play-offs. But David Beckham, having failed with five previous long-range free kicks, finally secured qualification for Japan and Korea with a virtuoso goal in the 93rd minute. The Manchester United midfielder unleashed an unstoppable right-foot strike, at his home ground just as news filtered through of Group 9 rivals Germany's failure to beat Finland.
The qualifier against Greece arguable represents Beckham's finest in an England shirt. Wearing the captain's armband, he led from the front, inspiring his team to claw their way back into the game and book an automatic berth at the FIFA World Cup finals in the process.
As BBC journalist Peter Sanderson wrote at the time: "While Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard appeared to vanish, Beckham was mercilessly hounding the Greeks into submission. It was only right that he scored the goal which booked England's ticket to Korea and Japan and sent the nation into delirium."
"I am lucky. As a manager, you are not always so lucky that a player scores a goal after coming on as a substitute every time. Of course, that's luck, you can't expect that. But I think Germany had a lot of luck in this qualification as well. But when you see Beckham score in the last minute, that's not luck, that's skill," Sven-Goran Eriksson, England manager.
"It wasn't the prettiest of games but we kept fighting back. The character of the team is unbelievable. We are young, and to come back from 1-0 to 1-1 then lose it again and come back again is amazing," *David Beckham, England captain. *
"It wasn't really happening for us today - the pitch was sticky and the Greeks frustrated us. We couldn't get our passing going. The crowd got upset, we got upset and that makes you more panicky. But you just have to dig deep. The captain did that when we needed it. He ran himself into the ground," Teddy Sheringham, England forward.
What happened next
England travelled to Korea/Japan 2002 and were defeated in the quarter-finals, which became a common exit point for the Three Lions during Eriksson's reign as manager, as they were to bow out at the same stage at UEFA EURO 2004 and Germany 2006. The Germans, meanwhile, defeated Ukraine over two legs to seal their progression and made it all the way through to the 2002 Final, were they too lost 2-0 to England's conquerors, Brazil.