A classic goal showing the importance of compactness. It’s probably best to say up front that we are viewing this goal from a perspective of what it can tell us today – what constitutes poor defending today may not have been at the time, so for example we can talk about how counter-pressing would have helped the situation but can’t justifiably criticise them for not doing so when the concept wasn’t really considered until a decade after the match took place. Basically we are going to discuss the match as if it happened today but it didn’t so the players and coaching shouldn’t be judged in that way.
The move starts with David Seaman launching forward a long ball from a poor backpass by Gary Neville, with Juan Sebastian Veron picking up the loose ball in Argentina’s half. (These stills are unfortunately the best quality I can find from this section of the goal).
England don’t exactly cover themselves in glory here. Paul Scholes should either follow Veron and let Paul Ince deal with Javier Zanetti or he should make more of an effort to stop Zanetti passing forward and let Ince cover Veron – there doesn’t appear to be much communication here though and they essentially do neither.
This large gap between Ince and Darren Anderton at the start of the move only actually becomes a problem once Veron bursts forward into it. As neither Scholes has dropped back to plug it or the players behind him have tucked in to form a more compact block, Tony Adams is forced into rushing forward to stop Veron and clatters him. England are fortunate here as Adams doesn’t get near the ball, toppling Veron after he’s played it forward to Claudio Lopez. Sol Campbell immediately goes to ground, slowing down Lopez enough so that Ince can get back and collect the ball.
With Neville coming across to plug the hole, Lopez had little opportunity to attack despite Adams getting dragged up the pitch, but England are fortunate that the referee doesn’t pull it back for a free-kick: Veron got clattered off the ball and Campbell ensured Argentina didn’t get any advantage.
When Argentina lose the ball they have six players forward. In today’s game, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem. Veron and Gabriel Batistuta are in positions to put pressure on Ince, while Diego Simeone can tuck in and cut out the forward pass to Beckham. In 1998 though, Ince is free to pass forward and Beckham is in behind Argentina’s midfield. Simeone is closest but, playing as a wing-back, he’s more concerned with Anderton and makes little effort to stop Beckham from turning, taking a second to look up and pick out a pass into Michael Owen, with Veron chasing back but not quick enough.
This last section of the goal is the oddest to modern eyes. Despite their team having the ball up the other end just seconds before, Roberto Ayala and Nelson Vivas are stood on the edge of their penalty area. Wary of Owen’s pace, they opted to stay very deep and protect their box rather than risking him catching them up the pitch. While this did mean that he was less likely to get one-on-one with Carlos Roa, it also gave him plenty of space between Argentina’s midfield and defence to pick up the ball and run at Argentina’s backline.
This made it all the more important that his marker stick close to him, denying him space to pick up the ball. Jose Chamot didn’t do this.
Owen controls the ball with the outside of his right leg and is immediately away. Chamot is scrambling back, trying to hold him back, but Owen shrugs off his weak challenge. By the time Owen reaches Ayala he’s at full sprint and in control of the ball, making it unlikely that the static Ayala is going to be unable to do much other than block his path, although, standing square on, the Valencia legend makes it easy for him. Ayala should have really tried to force Owen onto his weaker left foot, towards Vivas – Scholes’ run down the outside means this wasn’t perfect, but Ayala would at least have the opportunity to try cut out that pass – however, the defender facing forward, Owen can sprint straight past him and go one-on-one with Roas, slotting the ball into the opposite corner.