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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Beckham's Penalty Sends English Crazy

SAPPORO, Japan -- Four years after losing on penalties to the South Americans in France '98, 16 years after the Diego Maradona's infamous "Hand of God" goal in Mexico, England beat World Cup favorite Argentina 1-0 in a magnificent display in the indoor stadium in Sapporo.

A penalty just before halftime from David Beckham was enough for England to take some revenge for the losses of two previous World Cups in one of the most eagerly awaited first-round games of the tournament.

The English midfield held the key to a victory that only a few were predicting after a pallid performance against the Swedes in Saitama last Sunday.

Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt were the core of the midfield despite being an accidental pairing after Scholes was moved from left to the center after Owen Hargreaves had been taken off injured after a quarter of an hour.

Argentina had started the brighter but the midfield switch -- which brought on Trevor Sinclair on the left for Hargreaves after 18 minutes -- soon led to the best chance of the game before the penalty as Butt's pass set Michael Owen off on a run similar to that night four years ago when he tormented the Argentine defense for one of the best goals of France '98.

His shot this time bounced off the post after going through defender Walter Samuel's legs, but the Argentina defenders instantly knew they were in for much of the same all night.

Defender Mauricio Pochettino clunked Owen as he tried to go on another run in the penalty area, and from the spot kick Beckham wacked the ball almost straight at keeper Pablo Cavallero, who dived the wrong way.

"We've been waiting for this a long time so it's nice that it's come," Beckham said. "There is so much history between these two sides, but ultimately it's nice to be able to walk away from it and put it to rest."

Argentina dominated possession in the second half, especially in the last 20 minutes, when it attacked vainly in search of an equalizer. Pochinetto missed two good chances, heading wide with the first and David Seaman saving the second as Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand had one of their best games together in central defense.

Despite the pressure, England still had the better chances in the second half. Substitute Teddy Sheringham almost scored from a volley after a sweet 20-pass England move, but Cavallero managed to push the ball over and Beckham knocked a shot wide after running clear on goal.

Argentina joined Germany and Senegal in missing chances to clinch a second-round berth with one game still left in the first round, The Associated Press reported.

Morientes made sure Spain would not be stopped Friday, after the Spaniards already had made a mark by winning their opening match at a World Cup -- 3-1 over Slovenia -- for the first time in 52 years.

Henrik Larsson's two goals brought Sweden from behind for the victory that left Nigeria joining Saudi Arabia with no chance to reach the second round.

While four-time champion Brazil had no such problems, trouncing newcomer China 4-0, the three-time winners from Italy blew a second-half lead. They also put two balls in the net, only to have the goals disallowed, enraging their players and coach.

Also Saturday, at Daegu, South Korea, South Africa earned its first World Cup victory ever, beating Slovenia 1-0.

South Africa not only put itself in position to advance from Group B, but it knocked Slovenia from its first World Cup. In 1998, it had two draws and one loss on its way to first-round elimination.