The run-up to the World Cup finals is not a good time for the England captain to find himself relegated to the bench, but that is exactly where David Beckham had to sit last night as Real Madrid played out a tame goalless draw against Real Betis at the Bernabeu.
It was the first time in his three years in Spain that Beckham had been dropped for a home game. England's leader is rumoured to be about to be given a new shirt number at the Bernabeu - but he is unlikely to accept No 12. He was replaced by the Brazilian talent, Cicinho, who was signed by the club in January. The 24-year-old had started his Real career as a full-back behind Beckham but last week he played on the right wing against Valencia with Beckham being rested because of a groin injury.
The Brazilian impressed and last night, with Beckham back to full fitness, the kept Englishman was kept out of the team for only the third time in his Real career. In September 2004, Jose Antonio Camacho dropped Beckham against Espanyol - Real lost and Camacho walked the next day. Then, three months later, Camacho's replacement, Mariano Garcia Remon, left Beckham out and he, too, was replaced shortly afterwards.
The present manager, Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, is also a dead man walking but his decision still has major significance, with Beckham poised to lead England into the World Cup and wanting talks to extend a contract due to expire in 2007.
Defending his decision, Lopez Caro said: "Beckham is an exceptional player I am happy with his work but there is always competition and at the moment I think Cicinho is playing very well and he deserved to start."
Cicinho was Real's best player. He hit the crossbar with a cross-shot on 23 minutes and twice crossed for Cassano to go close before the break. Twenty minutes into the second-half, Sergio Ramos headed in his free-kick but was ruled offside.
Lopez Caro, who brought on Ronaldo nine minutes into the second half to no great effect, made his last change with 15 minutes left. Significantly, the final throw of the dice was not Beckham but Julio Baptista, the England captain staying on the bench to hear a crescendo of boos and whistles at the final whistle.
Real Madrid (4-4-1-1): Casillas; Salgado, Sergio Ramos, Raul Bravo (Mejia, 50), Roberto Carlos; Guti, Cicinho, Zidane, Raul (Ronaldo, 54), Robinho; Cassano (Baptista, 70). Substitutes not used: Diego Lopez (gk), Beckham, Diogo, Gravesen .
Real Betis (4-2-3-1) Contreras; Luis Fernandez (Nano, 77), Juanito, Rivas, Varela; Arzu, Rivera (Miguel Angel, 70); Joaquin (Dani, 82), Xisco, Edu; Robert. Substitutes not used: Doblas (gk), Cañas, Tardelli, Israel.
Referee: M Perez Lasa.
l Goals by Henrik Larsson and Samuel Eto'o gave Barcelona a 2-0 win at Real Sociedad on Saturday and their lead in La Liga is now 11 points over Real Madrid.Reuse content