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Wednesday, July 1, 1998 Published at 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK

Sport: Football

Battling England team return

Concorde took Glenn Hoddle's men home

BBC Football Correspondent Mike Ingham reflects on another night of proud defeat
The England football squad have arrived back home following their disappointment at being eliminated from the World Cup at the hands of Argentina.

They lost on penalties after playing much of the match with 10 men following the sending off of David Beckham.

The fans: how the result was welcomed in Buenos Aires and in Britain
For most fans - and probably the players too - the key moments of the match will be a blur the morning after a dramatic night.

But the whole affair began as it eventually ended - with the drama of penalties.

[ image: Seaman almost saved Batistuta's penalty]
Seaman almost saved Batistuta's penalty
In the sixth minute, Argentina were awarded a spot-kick after David Seaman was judged to have fouled Diego Simeone.

Gabriel Batistuta scored - though Seaman came close to saving.

Then four minutes later Michael Owen fell under a challenge in the box, and Alan Shearer placed a more impressive spot-kick high into the net.

England coach Glenn Hoddle on the players, the referee and Beckham
Both decisions were harsh, but at least the Danish referee Kim Nielsen had been even handed with his errors - unlike later in the game when England's players and coach believed they were hard done by.

[ image: Danish referee Kim Nielsen: a central figure]
Danish referee Kim Nielsen: a central figure
England had a goal disallowed, and a clear penalty appeal turned down. Glenn Hoddle and Shearer were amongst those who complained, the England captain even said it felt like the team was playing 12 men.

England captain Alan Shearer: critical of refereeing decisions
But before all that there was a moment of individual brilliance that every English fan will remember.

At 18, Michael Owen should have plenty more World Cups left in him but he lit up this one with one of the best goals of this or any tournament.

[ image: Michael Owen remains a bright hope for the future]
Michael Owen remains a bright hope for the future
Beckham found him inside the centre circle allowing Owen to slice the Argentinian defence apart, outpacing one man, before jinking to his right and beating another with sheer speed, before firing an unstoppable shot past Carlos Roa.

From then on though, it was downhill all the way for England.

Javier Zanetti equalised on the stroke of half time with a clever free-kick routine, but then after the break came Beckham's moment of madness.

[ image: Beckham's moment of madness]
Beckham's moment of madness
He was hauled down by Simeone, but as he lay on the floor he lifted his leg to catch the Argentinian with a sneaky kick.

Beckham's retaliation was stupid enough, but his idiocy was compounded by the fact that the incident happened right under the nose of referee Nielsen, who first booked Simeone for the initial challenge, but then showed Beckham the red card for his retaliation.

[ image: Sol Campbell asks why his 'goal' was disallowed]
Sol Campbell asks why his 'goal' was disallowed
After that England's 10 men faced an uphill task. They did have the ball in the back of the net on 81 minutes, but Sol Campbell's header was ruled out after Shearer was judged to have elbowed Roa.

There was also a penalty appeal turned down, but for most of the second half, and all of extra time, England's job was a defensive one.

Then came the penalties and England's hopes were raised when Seaman saved Hernan Crespo's effort. But the advantage was immediately wiped out when Paul Ince's penalty was beaten away.

[ image: Despair and delight for Batty and Roa]
Despair and delight for Batty and Roa
Two minutes later David Batty stepped up, needing to score, but placed his penalty just too close to Roa, who made a comfortable save to once again break the hearts of English football fans.

Argentina's victory led to wild scenes in Buenos Aires.

Most Argentinians simply celebrated progress in the World Cup, but for some there was a political element for a country which still feels bitter about the 1982 war over the Falkland Islands.

Same old story

The conclusion many in England will draw is a familar one.

Hope for the future: Michael Owen's goal
As has often been the case in recent years, a proud England team took part in the most dramatic match of the tournament, and narrowly lost to leave everyone asking: "What if?"

Tony Blair: "A mountain of courage, a molehill of luck."
What if Beckham had kept his cool? What if Paul Scholes had taken a chance that would have given England a 3-1 lead? What if Campbell's 'goal' had stood?

And of course yet again, what if England's penalty takers were as accurate as their opponents?

This time it will be Ince and Batty who must come to terms with something Gareth Southgate, Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce all learned to live with.

But each one of the players will no doubt return home with a feeling of great disappointment that they so narrowly missed out.

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