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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Owen and Butt lead the charge
Nicky Butt makes a perfect cover tackle on Pablo Aimar
Nicky Butt can rarely have played better

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David Beckham grabbed the glory - but it was Michael Owen and Nicky Butt who put World Cup vengeance in England's grasp against Argentina in Sapporo.

England were on the road to ending 16 years of World Cup anguish against the old enemy from the moment Liverpool striker Owen turned the clock back to France 98.

Owen may not have reproduced the wonder goal that shot him to world superstardom when he struck a post after 24 minutes, but the effect on Argentina was almost as devastating.

Argentina had held the upper hand in the early exchanges, but suddenly fear ran through the South American ranks like an earth tremor every time Owen took possession.

Mauricio Pochettino's ill-timed tackle that paved the way for Beckham's penalty was the result of pure panic that struck Argentina every time Owen ran at their rearguard with pace to burn.

Michael Owen is brought down for the penalty
Michael Owen's pace terrorised Argentina

England rediscovered the faith that had deserted them during the half-time interval against Sweden - and a famous and wonderfully well-deserved victory was on the point of being won.

It may have been nerve-jangling and left England supporters knee deep in chewed fingernails as Argentina camped out in their territory after the interval, but no-one should begrudge Eriksson and his players a single second of their joyous celebrations.

If Owen was the spearhead who struck terror into Argentina's defence, then he must share star billing with the man who has been the understudy so often for club and country.

Butt has lived in the shadows of team-mates Beckham and Paul Scholes for Manchester United and England - but this was the day he could hog the spotlight himself.

He can rarely have played better than in the first 45 minutes, when he wrestled control of the vital midfield area from his Manchester United colleague Juan Sebastian Veron.

Veron left the action at half-time, possibly suffering from a broken heart, as Sven-Goran Eriksson's England finally delivered a performance that justified the optimism that surrounded the squad before they under-achieved against Sweden.

Eriksson's England delivered a performance that contained everything their lacklustre effort against Sweden in Saitama lacked.

They were fiercely committed, resolute at the back, organised, confident in possession - and they finally used the world-class spearhead they possess in Owen.

But England had heroes all over the field, from the sound David Seaman to the tireless Emile Heskey.

And if England rode their luck in the face of an inevitable second-half revival from Argentina, who is to say they did not finally deserve it after Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" in 1986 and the desperate exit on penalties at France 98?

Eriksson may even have got an unwitting slice of luck when Owen Hargreaves unfortunately limped off, allowing Scholes to switch from the left flank into the middle - a position he should always occupy.

It helped establish the platform for a vital victory on a night when England's World Cup heroes put their false start against Sweden behind them.


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England's Michael Owen
"We deserved to win"
England's Rio Ferdinand
"It was a good team performance"
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GROUP F
  P GD PTS
SWEDEN 3 +1 5
ENGLAND 3 +1 5
ARGENTINA 3 0 4
NIGERIA 3 -2 1




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