Hargreaves out to turn the fans' jeers into cheers

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The Independent Football

Until the 82nd minute at the Waldstadion on Saturday the England support had fulfilled pre-World Cup aspirations of providing impeccable backing for a third major tournament in succession.

A rousing rendition of the national anthem preceded a respectful silence for Paraguayos, Republica o Muerte!, and when England wilted in temperatures that were confirmed yesterday at 38C on the touchline, their own discomfort proved no obstacle to songs of spirited defiance. Then Owen Hargreaves stepped towards the touchline, and the jeering began.

"Disgusted," was how David Beckham yesterday described the reaction of the England players to the derision that confronted the Bayern Munich midfielder when he replaced Joe Cole, the captain's anger directed only towards a minority, but an audible one that threatened to undermine the team's resilience in Frankfurt all the same.

"It didn't affect us, but it was sad to hear that on Saturday," Beckham said. "Owen is an honest player, an honest lad, only a young lad. A number of the players were turning round disgusted by it. He's playing for his country, doing what he can. He is playing for one of the best teams in Europe. He has won European Cups, leagues, and he's a very good player. It was sad to hear. Owen is a strong personality, a strong player. He will overcome it."

Beckham believes the 25-year-old can draw inspiration from Peter Crouch's metamorphosis into a cult hero in the eight months since he was jeered on to the England stage against Poland. It is a concern that Hargreaves has become a target purely on account of his Canadian birth, Munich residence and Welsh mother, with his contribution in awkward situations - the latter stages of Saturday's match a prime example - deliberately ignored.

Hargreaves stoically accepted the boos that greeted his introduction in the friendly against Hungary on account of the alienation that comes with playing for Bayern Munich. As he gave another highly professional analysis of his plight yesterday, however, it was delivered with the determination of one who left the Calgary Foothills and home as a 16-year-old to forge his way into a regular place with Germany's most successful club.

"I kind of saw it coming," Hargreaves said. "When we played in England and there was a bit of a jeer I was quite surprised. I'd never really experienced anything like that before. I've been everything in football. I've been the wonderkid, the saviour, everything. It's part of football. I've been an underdog because of where I was born and moving to Germany.

"No one had really heard of me but I broke into the first team, started in the Champions' League semi-final and final and broke into the England team. I've proved everybody wrong along the way and I will this time as well."