Beckham loses his way, his cool and his place - but will he be missed?

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The Independent Football

Then the man who spends much of his life ensuring headline writers will never forget his name, crashed through the anonymity of his performance. Beckham will dominate the television, radio and newspapers this morning by making history: he is the first man to be sent off twice in an England shirt.

The first occasion, in the 1998 World Cup, had idiots burning sarong-clad Beckham effigies outside football grounds and given the extremes the man seems to provoke there is bound to be an over-reaction this time. Expect to see pictures soon of "Free the Real Madrid One" protestors chaining themselves to the Fifa railings in Switzerland this week, for although Beckham behaved like a clown when he was dismissed against Argentina for flicking out a leg at Diego Simeone seven years ago, yesterday there were grounds for believing the England captain was hard done by. His first booking, after 58 minutes, came when he went into a challenge with Andreas Ibertsberger with his arm high enough to attract the attention of the referee Luis Medina Cantalejo. The yellow card may have been harsh - the England manager Sven Goran Eriksson believed it was worthy of a free-kick and nothing more - but if you lead with your forearm there is always the chance that an official will read malicious intent.

Beckham was clearly incensed when he was cautioned and that is precisely the point. When he feels he has been the victim of an injustice, he rampages round the field like a man with a mission. The red mist may not have descended, but he gives a passable impression of someone trying to locate reason through a scarlet pea-souper and yesterday was no different.

When he ran, it appeared a scything tackle was only moments away; when he lined up Ibertsberger for a tackle as the Austrian left-back charged towards the England penalty area, you expected a mugging. Television pictures showed that, if anything, Beckham pulled out of the tackle and that Ibertsberger made the most of minimal contact, but you could forgive the Spanish referee for thinking he had witnessed grievous bodily harm. "I think their player made a meal of it," Beckham said, but that again is not the point. A captain should set the example; not act so that he risks being made an example of.

Beckham took one look at Medina Cantalejo, realised a second caution was coming and put in a performance of the wronged man that would have won the respect of Kenneth Branagh. Then, with the realisation that protest was futile, sense finally found its target and Beckham made a point of locating Ibertsberger and shaking him by the hand. It may have been a sarcastic gesture or an act of genuine contrition, but it made no difference. It was Beckham who made the short walk of shame down the Old Trafford tunnel and into the history books.

"He was unlucky in both cases," Eriksson said, but the paradox is that the Swede will now be without his captain and the man he has built his midfield around against Poland on Wednesday, when he will attempt to give England the perfect launch pad for the World Cup finals in Germany by finishing top of Group Six. It should have been Beckham's 50th game leading his country.

The whole 4-5-1 fiasco that led to defeat against Northern Ireland last month was an attempt to prise the best out of Beckham and what should be England's powerhouse midfield. It did not work at Windsor Park because the launchpad of Beckham passes from in front of his back four meant that Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard got neck ache following the ball's trajectory and were disorientated trying to get a touch of it. If the holy trinity gelled at all, it was only when they applied it to their hair in the dressing room afterwards. Now Beckham will be missing. We could find out on Wednesday if he is the solution or the problem.

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