It was a cold, autumnal Saturday evening in November 2005 in Geneva, Switzerland. With England having already booked their place at the 2006 World Cup, they had the opportunity to pit their wits against one of the world’s best teams in a friendly match. But it wasn’t Switzerland that England were facing, it was the Old Enemy, Argentina.
International Friendly. There has never been such a match between these two nations. England-Argentina is a bitter rivalry that goes way back, as far as the 1966 World Cup in fact, when England manager Sir Alf Ramsey ordered his players not to shake hands with their Argentinean counterparts after a controversial affair. Then there was the “Hand Of God” controversy in the Quarter Finals of the 1986 World Cup, where Diego Maradona used a clenched fist to send the ball beyond the advancing Peter Shilton. Add to that the 1982 Falklands War and you have a history that renders the term “friendly” quite ridiculous.
As ever, we took to the ground and our seats inside the Stade de Geneve relatively early, around 45 minutes before the game kicked off. Taking the routine pictures, we were soaking up the pre game atmosphere, getting ready for the battle ahead. The national anthem brought goosebumps and tingles down the spine, here we were, another away friendly, this one with tournament style atmosphere, this was England V Argentina.
It didn’t start well for England, a beautifully constructed move initiated by the excellent Juan Roman Riquelme resulted in a relatively easy tap in for Hernan Crespo just after the half hour mark. Within minutes, though, Wayne Rooney had latched onto a David Beckham flick to draw England level. Not long after half time Argentina regained the lead. It was that man again, Riquelme. A floated ball towards the far post found Walter Samuel unmarked and he duly nodded past Paul Robinson.
The 10,000 England fans inside the stadium started to feel a little déjà vu, we had been in this situation before. Another friendly, another lacklustre performance. We had also already been told that we would have to remain in our seats after the game, and if past experiences were anything to go by, we were set to be kept there for up to two hours once the game had finished. 2-1 down and likely to be kept waiting after, many headed for the exits. We had been in this situation before, we knew what was happening, what was coming, why wait for it to happen, after all, the pub was calling. I stayed put.
It was the 86th minute. A number of substitutions and tactical switch arounds by Sven Goran Eriksson tipped the balance in England’s favour, but we desperately needed a goal. A deep cross by Steven Gerrard was met by Michael Owen’s head. Sending the ball back across goal, he saw it nestle beautifully in the corner. Celebrations in the stands were wild, but the best was yet to come. Not settling for 2-2, England were back on the attack. Joe Cole performed a bit of trickery and then dinked the ball into the box. The man on the end of it? Who else, Owen again. Rising above the defender (and Peter Crouch), one of the smallest players on the pitch nodded past Argentinean goalkeeper Abbondanzieri for the second time. It was deep into stoppage time and England had gone from 2-1 down to 3-2 up in just five minutes.
Cue, euphoria in the stands. Dancing in the aisles with the arms of people you had never met being flung around your neck. Friendly? Not a chance. This was the moment that England had beaten Argentina, this was history in the making, and I was there to witness it.
Michael Owen was at his best that night. For 85 minutes he was nowhere, not in the game. Then all of a sudden, and when his team and country needed him the most, he popped up at the right place, and stuck the ball into the net, twice. Vintage Owen.