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BECKS CAN 'LAY GHOST' OF '98; Skipper's ready to face the best.

DAVID Beckham cannot wait for the chance to 'lay the ghost of '98' when England tackle Argentina in next summer's World Cup finals.

Beckham suffered the worst moment of his international career when he was sent off for lashing out at Diego Simeone when the teams last met in the last 16 in France.

England went on to lose the match on penalties and crash out of the World Cup with Beckham cast as the villain for his petulant kick at Simeone.

From that England low point, Beckham has bounced back in stunning fashion, becoming England's skipper and hero - his injury-time free-kick against Greece booking a place in next summer's finals.

Now Beckham has the chance to lock horns with Argentina again when England meet the tournament favourites in Sapporo on June 7.

Beckham said: 'As a footballer you always want to test yourself against the best and there is no question that this is a highly competitive group. They are three very different teams with very different styles.

'Personally I can't wait for June 7 - it's a great chance to lay the ghost of '98.'

Before the draw, England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson had nominated Argentina - along with reigning champions France - as the team to avoid.

He added: 'I always said those two teams are the big, big favourites.

'Argentina won their qualifying group easily against very good teams.


'Nigeria are the only team I do not know so much about. I have seen them, of course, but I need to see them a lot more.

'It is tough for the other teams too - I am sure their managers think the same too.'

England kick off their campaign against Sweden in Saitama on June 2, followed by Argentina in the northern-most venue of Sapporo on June 7. The final group game will be in Osaka against Nigeria on June 12.

The one solace for the England camp is that if they do make it to further rounds they will stay in Japan and will not have to travel for matches in Korea.

'We know we are going to stay in Japan for the whole tournament now, and that's good,' added Eriksson, who said he felt a sense of fate about the draw.

'I had a feeling it would be tough for us. I was sitting next to Football Association chief executive Adam Crozier and said it would be difficult to be any worse.

'When we knew we would be playing Argentina and Sweden we both had a feeling it would be Nigeria too.'


MAY THE BEST MAN WIN... Sven Goran Eriksson with Sweden coach Tommy Soderberg
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Title Annotation:FOOTBALL
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Dec 2, 2001
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