Argentine admits foul play over Beckham

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The Independent Online
NOW IT can be revealed: the great villain of last year's sporting summer and the man overwhelmingly blamed for England's exit from the World Cup finals was probably more sinned against than sinning.

David Beckham, a hate figure for some since being sent off against Argentina in the second round of France 98, received an apology of sorts yesterday when Diego Simeone,involved in the incident that led to the dismissal, admitted he conned the referee. With timing that would have brought an admiring nod from Machiavelli, he admitted exaggerating his injury when Beckham flicked out a foot at him in St Etienne.

That they meet again for the first time tonight when Manchester United play Internazionale of Milan in the quarter-finals of the Champions League is, of course, irrelevant.

"Let's just say the referee fell into the trap," Simeone said. "It was a difficult one for him to have avoided because I went down well ... You could say my falling transformed a yellow card into a red card but in fact the most appropriate punishment was a yellow one. In reality it wasn't a violent blow, it was just a little kick back with no force behind it and was probably instinctive. The referee was right there ... and probably punished that intention to retaliate."

Effigies of Beckham have been burnt outside some grounds and he has been the victim of abuse from opposing supporters in every game he has played. At one stage it was feared he would have to be transferred to a foreign club to escape the vitriol.

Which is unlikely to make Simeone's sympathy easy to accept. "In England they wanted to put all the blame on Beckham but they had just as good a chance of knocking us out. And it certainly wasn't his fault; we were better and luckier in the penalty shoot-out. We're talking about a player who ... is excellent and has a truly great future ahead of him."

The reaction Simeone expects tonight? "I might get whistled," he replied, "but if that happened the English fans would only make me happy. I adore it when rival fans whistle at me. It really fires me up."

In that case he should be a very happy man at Old Trafford.