Beckham takes swipe at critics and aims for 2010 World Cup

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The Independent Football

The memory of leading England to the 2002 World Cup courtesy of his finest moment in international football still enraptures Beckham, as the momentous equaliser against Greece in October, 2001 should. It will not be, according to the Real Madrid midfielder, his last great act as England captain.

"It would not surprise me if England came back with the World Cup," Lawrie Sanchez, the Northern Ireland manager, said yesterday. "It is their year. Sven knows he has the template for next summer, then one or two will go over the top. That's natural." Although the oldest member of Sven Goran Eriksson's outfield squad, Beckham does not believe that assessment necessarily applies to him.

"I would like to think there is another World Cup in me after this one, hopefully I'll still be playing international football at the same age as Roy Keane," said the 31-year-old.

"He is still one of the best midfield players in the world. I would love to play not only in this World Cup in Germany but the one in South Africa too. I'll have to wait and see about that though. I'll need to see how the legs are first." That last comment was more loaded than it appears. Beckham must wonder at times whether that Old Trafford free-kick unlocked a curse, with his every England outing since judged alongside that dominating display.

Only this weekend, having instigated the winner against Wales, he was subject to further criticism, notably Terry Butcher's declaration that those aforementioned legs "had gone".

"It doesn't bother me but I do find it a little sad that people drop to that level, and I am not just talking about the criticism that has been aimed at myself," he admitted.

"If I met Terry Butcher tomorrow I would probably shake his hand and say 'hello'. There is no point me questioning him about it because he has put it across a double page spread and that's the way it is. I would rather he said it to my face personally but that is the way it is these days. But I respect him as a player. At the end of the day criticism comes and you either listen to it and let it affect you as a person in your life or on the football pitch or you just take it with a pinch of salt and move on.

"I realise I am playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world.I feel as fit as I did three or four years ago. I am playing for Real Madrid and I am the England captain, so my fitness levels have to be high." Beckham has the statistics to back up his patient, if repeated, argument. The captain clocked up seven miles against Greece at Old Trafford and almost four years later his output is just the same.

"I would like to think I could get to that level [Greece] again," added Beckham. "Every game I go into I like to perform to the highest level I can but every game is different. I am not sure there will be another game like that because the game evolved into a situation where it needed something like that and I was able to do that on the day.

"In our team now we have incredible talent who can win us a game like that with the likes of Rooney, Owen, Gerrard, Wright-Phillips and Cole."

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