Beckham and Veron to go head-to-head

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Updated: February 25, 2007 09:27 IST
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Naraha, Japan:

David Beckham and Juan Sebastian Veron - two world class players with little left to prove to anybody? On the contrary. When the Manchester United teammates come face to face on Friday, the England captain will be out to erase memories of a painful red card against Argentina in France '98. Veron, also captaining his side, will be desperate to silence his critics in England - and maybe even show Beckham a thing or two. Both players are full of admiration for each other. "Even with just one foot, Beckham is dangerous," says Veron, referring to the Englishman's fitness struggle since breaking his left foot in April. "I know he is really looking forward to the Argentina game. He sees it as a chance for revenge." Of Veron, Beckham warns: "A player of his ability could destroy any team." He hopes it's not his own. Their encounter is just one of many subplots behind what has become a classic - and normally controversial - sporting fixture. This time, Veron looks set to enjoy a reversal of fortunes against his Old Trafford teammate. Veron, Britain's record signing, at times appeared a bystander last season, crowded out by the long-established quartet of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Beckham. He was accused in many quarters of not pulling his weight as the club failed to win any trophies. Yet he looked liberated against Nigeria on Sunday, the fulcrum of his team's piercing attacks. His panoramic vision, energy, inch-perfect passing and deadly set pieces were all evident in the 1-0 victory, which opened up a two-point cushion over England. Beckham, in contrast, played his first match in almost two months in the 1-1 draw with Sweden, and came off tired after an hour. For Argentina, Veron is given a free role just behind a triangle of two attacking wingers and a central striker. For Manchester United, he was played deeper in midfield - a position assumed for Argentina by the tough-tackling Diego Simeone, whose clash with Beckham at France '98 led to the Englishman's expulsion. "To say it was a mistake to buy a player like him is ridiculous - he's one of the best midfielders in the world," says Beckham of the shaven-headed Veron, known as "the little witch" in Argentina. Ironically, England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has twice broken the bank to buy Veron, for Sampdoria and Lazio. Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson has said Veron was targeted by sections of the English media immediately after the World Cup draw pitted Argentina and England together. Veron, citing frequent injuries, acknowledges he had a disappointing first season in England. On Friday, he will also come up against teammate Paul Scholes in midfield, and possibly Nicky Butt. Beckham, though, is the man Argentina fears. Argentine daily Clarin this week displayed a large graphic on its web site, with two fingers crossed and a logo, saying: "Let's hope Beckham doesn't play." He is most likely to play on the right, although he could possibly be brought inside to give England's midfield some much-needed flair. His turnaround since the 1998 red card - which triggered a vile hate campaign in parts of England - has been remarkable. His spectacular last-minute free kick against Greece sealed England's place in South Korea and Japan. "Would I walk away this time? Yes I would," Beckham said in reference to the 1998 clash with Simeone. "I feel that I can handle pressure now. It has changed me as a person and a footballer."

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