World Cup 1998: Michael Owen’s solo goal against Argentina

It seems like an odd thing to say now given his punditry, but there was a time when Michael Owen was perhaps the most interesting footballer on the planet.

Unlike most players, Owen burst onto the scene fully formed at Liverpool, winning the Premier League Golden Boot with 18 goals in 36 games in his first full season. As a result, he went to the 1998 World Cup in France as manager Glenn Hoddle’s sleeve, initially as an option off the bench.

After the opening win against Tunisia, Owen became the youngest player to represent England at the World Cup. Towards the end of the group stage, he scored a fine equalizer to make it 2–1 in stoppage time. beat Romania and firmly replaced Teddy Sheringham in Hoddle’s starting line-up. He was also now the youngest English scorer in the World Cup.

Then came old foes Argentina in the round of 16 and Owen’s finest moment as a player.

Harry Simeo hosts Scott Saunders, Graze Khan and Jack Gallagher to look back at France ’98 as part of ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

Gabriel Batistuta and Alan Shearer both converted penalties inside the first 10 minutes to turn a frenzy and Javier Zanetti scored on the stroke of half-time, but it was Michael Owen’s electric solo run and finish that will live long in the memory of England fans. Lives for a long time.

You may also remember David Beckham doing something a little silly in the second half but we don’t need to talk about that.

Owens is an excellent counter-attacking goalie. Paul Innes did well to win the ball back for England, curling Maxi Lopez aside after Sol Campbell’s early sliding tackle. Looking back on it now, England are probably a little lucky not to have been given a foul after Tony Adams charged straight at Juan Sebastian Veron.

You certainly won’t get away with a move like this.

Once found, Beckham takes the entire Argentine midfield out of play with a single pass, who in turn lays the ball forward for Owen, before his future Manchester United team-mate Veron A. Get well for freezing.

The pass itself isn’t great and seems more optimistic than anything else, reaching waist height and without much speed. Regardless, Owen seized the opportunity, bringing the ball down with the outside of his boot and unimpeded.

Jose Chamot offers little resistance as Owen surges past but he at least manages to throw the England striker slightly off balance. However, a sinister Fernandinho-style hack was required.

And because it was the late ’90s, he still had Roberto Ayala as a sweeper, usually a strong one-on-one defender but with his shoulders to the edge of his area. Backing up. Owen, buckling slightly from Chamot’s push – and this is the cutest part – drops a devastating shoulder and flashes around Ayala like the defender is blindfolded and his shoelaces tied. I’m tied.

You can picture Jamie Carragher tearing Argentina to pieces on Monday Night Football if this goal had been scored now. “If we stop it… there, you can actually see Roberto Ayala sinking into the quicksand.” Honestly, Shami alone should have retired him on the spot.

A surging Paul Scholes is clamoring for a shot at the moment but Owen doesn’t need one. His confidence was such that he was planning to shoot the ball from the time it crossed the halfway line.

Carlos Rua’s finish in the top left corner is strong, high and hard. Even more of a celebration, as Owen opens his arms, looks up at the sky and shakes with all the remaining kinetic energy, as if it is coursing through him like lightning.

England’s replacements – particularly Paul Merson – lose it completely. They cannot believe what they have seen. Teddy Sheringham, secretly furious, claps semi-politely. Steve McMenamin has a jumper around his shoulders for a reason. Darren Anderton is there. The whole thing is fantastic.

It was a blur at the time but somehow the memory of Owen’s goal against Argentina has crystallized rather than faded. Like Beckham’s free kick against Greece you only needed to see it once. Then all the replays happened only in your own mind.

We know how it all ended, the shootout beat as agonizing as it was inevitable, but with those five magical touches of the ball in as many seconds as Michael Owen had us all in the palm of his hand.

“He’s 18 years and 198 days old,” commented Jon Champion. “Just think what he’ll be like when he grows up.”

Sadly, I think that was the problem. He grew up – we all did – and neither Owen, nor football, was ever as good as he was.

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