Inside story of Beckham’s iconic free-kick vs Greece including wild fan theory

David Beckham's iconic last-gasp free-kick against Greece remains one of English football's finest ever moments.

It's 20 years to the day that Beckham bent his spectacular strike up and over the wall to clinch England's spot in the 2002 World Cup.

It was a moment that sparked wild scenes of celebration amongst Three Lions fans at Old Trafford.

But as huge as that goal was for Sven Goran Eriksson's side, it meant more to Beckham.

For the England skipper, that goal capped a remarkable turnaround after he was vilified for his actions in a Three Lions shirt in the 1998 World Cup. He went from zero to hero in an instant.

“That was the moment that England supporters forgave me for what had happened a few years before," reflected Beckham following his sending off for kicking out at Argentina ace Diego Simeone.

“For me personally, that was redemption for what had happened — because up until then, there was always that cloud around the sending-off.”

Following his dismissal, England went on to lose the game and were dumped out by Argentina, leaving Beckham to bear the brunt of fans anger in the aftermath.

Beckham received death threats, whilst an effigy of the former Manchester United star hanging outside a pub went global.

Was Beckham's free-kick against Greece the greatest England goal ever? Let us know in the comments below.

In the three years that spanned between his moment of madness and the Greece clash, Beckham slowly rebuilt his reputation with England fans – before taking it to new heights with his stunning strike against the Greeks.

He added: “That goal against Greece was when I felt the real England fans, and the fans that disliked me for a few years, all of a sudden were like, ‘OK, that’s it, we can move on now’.

“That, for me, was a special moment.”

But, in a weird twist of fate, it turns out he wasn't actually supposed to be the one taking the free-kick.

According to then-England boss Eriksson, it should have been Teddy Sheringham, who had already netted in the game, who took the set-piece.

Speaking exclusively to Ladbrokes at the launch of their European Championships 5-a-side Bet, he said: “If you remember that game against Greece at Old Trafford, I think David Beckham had missed four free-kicks in the game before he eventually scored.

“I'd brought Teddy Sheringham on in the second-half, and I remember when we got that free-kick at the end of the game, Sheringham wanted to take it.

“But David, as the captain, said no. We were lucky he made that decision. That was our ticket to the World Cup. I was very, very happy. I became crazy for a moment, I think. I was screaming, and that's something I never do.

“We didn't play well at all in the game. We'd won in Germany, and then we were struggling at home against Greece – but that's football. You never know what's going to happen. That goal was extremely important.”

And what about the man who was cast aside?

Sheringham revealed that Beckham effectively told him to jog on before stepping up to make history – and he probably had a point.

Sheringham, also speaking to Ladbrokes, recalled: “I'd already scored to make it 1-1 in the game, so I was buzzing. I felt ten feet tall, and I'd won the free-kick late on in the game, making the most of a shove from the defender.

“Becks had probably had five or six free-kicks in that game, and they'd gone all over the place; he'd hit the wall, he'd hit Row Z, so when we got the last one I actually said to him ‘Becks, I'll have this one.’

“He just said ‘Go away, Ted. You can't even reach from here.’

“He had a point. I'd scored the odd free-kick in my career but I saw Becks on a daily basis practicing so I knew he was better. If you had to put money on someone putting the ball in the top corner in the last minute of a game, you'd put it on him.

“He told me to go away in the most polite way he could think of at the time, and ended up scoring. That's what top players are all about.”

After the celebrations had died down, England jetted off to Japan and South Korea for the World Cup a year later.

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The Three Lions crashed out to eventual winners Brazil in the quarter-finals, with Ronaldinho's famous lob over David Seaman sealing a 2-1 win for his country.

But a wild fan theory has suggested that Eriksson's Golden Generation, as they became known, would have had a better crack at World Cup glory had Beckham NOT scored his iconic free-kick.

Beckham's late strike against Greece ensured England went through automatically at the expense of old rivals Germany, who were forced into a play-off with Ukraine to seal qualification.

Germany reached the final of that summer's World Cup, and it's argued that England could have copied their run had they taken their spot in the qualifier.

The Germans topped a group that included Ireland, Cameroon and Saudi Arabia before toppling Paraguay in the last 16.

They swept aside USA in the last eight before spoiling hosts' South Korea's party to book a date with Brazil in the final.

It's argued that England would have surely romped their way to the final should they have been handed the same route as their old rivals.

But maybe that's wide of the mark when you consider the Three Lions failed to win their own group.

Even if they had topped it, they'd have come up against world conquerors Brazil in the semi's rather than the last eight.

In hindsight, maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe England's World Cup misery was worth it for that Beckham moment alone.

His thunderbolt helped spark a surge of interest in the national team, and as Ross Barkley revealed years later, helped inspire a generation.

"That was my first memory of England, watching that goal from David Beckham against Greece," the current Chelsea and England ace said back in 2014.

"It was a great moment at the time and I was celebrating on the couch. At that moment I really wanted to play for England."

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