Beckham's deft touch shows no sign of waning

Contrary to last night's general impressions, the Andorran nation and David Beckham do share something in common in football. The nation and the player were unleashed on international football in the same year, 1996, days when the nation awaited a Labour government with baited breath and the Football Association had the same kind of belief in Glenn Hoddle's powers of management.

There is no doubt which has better stood the test of time. The Principality, with three wins to its credit down the course of those 13 years, is worse than ever, if still mildly better than San Marino but Beckham still keeps going on and on, defying those who wrote him out of England and World Cup history.

The 2010 tournament seemed a distant dream on the day, three years back, when Beckham stood in a marquee in the Black Forest on the brink of tears and read his captain's resignation speech from two typewritten sheets. Steve McClaren thought he could live without him and the nation thought Fabio Capello probably could but there he was again last night.

His name produced the biggest shout last night, when he started for the 100th time in an England shirt and for the first time in a World Cup game since the bitter defeat in the World Cup quarter-final defeat to Portugal in Gelsenkirchen which saw him limp from the turf and call time on his captaincy.

Beckham, strolling around in the central midfield role Gareth Barry vacated with his second booking of the group stage, did here what he always tends to do when posted in such a position – thump ball after ball out to the wings like he does crosses when a winger. It won't work from that position when the competition is the remotest bit sterner and the space afforded to Beckham tighter than Andorra made it. But that is for another day. The delivery from Beckham at times was still quite exquisite to behold. Aged 34 he might be, and yard for yard across the turf just about a match for Andorra's fastest, but when it comes to the release of a ball at his feet there is surely still no one finer in the nation.

There was an immediate reminder of the threat he poses, with the lofted ball from the right which Peter Crouch conspired to head over the bar, 10 minutes into the match. But Beckham's vintage was saved for the second half and what effortlessness it proved to be.

The dinked chip which Crouch chested down and fired over; the deft, lofted ball, left to right across the box, which Joleon Lescott could not connect with a minute later.

Then the free-kick which Jesus Alvarez fumbled, handing Jermain Defoe the rebound he pounced on for 5-0, and perhaps the finest strike of all – 50 yards, centre to left, sending Ashley Young running down the left to collect the pass he managed to waste. There were trots across the turf from Beckham to congratulate those who had advanced still further England's case to be one of the favourites for South Africa, though the prevailing thought as the season ends is about Beckham finding the net again.

He has never scored at a Wembley Stadium – old or new. So does he have time? It seemed so, when Capello all but selected him for the foreseeable future late last night. "If Beckham is here, I choose him because he's one of the best English players," he said. "He's always done well when he's played."

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