It has been a crazy ride, but England's epic journey to the World Cup finals in Korea and Japan next summer found rainbow's end at Old Trafford yesterday. As usual, there were traumas and a few tears. As usual, England stretched the nerves and explored the emotional octaves, drawing 2-2 with unconsidered Greece through the right boot of David Beckham barely a minute before the end of injury time and cutting short the celebrations of the Germans, who believed they had qualified.
This was the second time in a calendar month that England have reduced Germany to despair. Aware that England were losing to Greece and that their own draw with Finland would be enough for them to qualify for the World Cup, the Germans were in the midst of a lap of honour when the news of Beckham's late goal came through from Old Trafford.
So little had gone right for England that hope had all but vanished as the England captain lined up his ninth free-kick of the afternoon deep into injury time. This is well-marked territory for Beckham, but not even he could calculate the emotional and financial bonanza triggered by his fifth international goal. Golden Balls indeed. It is not just Victoria Beckham who will use the nickname from now on. England promise to be one of the most profitable, marketable and glamorous sides in the World Cup.
"They say that dreams don't come true, but to score a free-kick in the dying seconds to get England to the World Cup, and at Old Trafford, that proved to me and the rest of the lads that they do," said Beckham. For Sven Goran Eriksson, the Swede recruited late last year to replace Kevin Keegan, there were almost equal emotional riches. "It was a fantastic football afternoon," Eriksson said. "Very dramatic. If we want to do better in the World Cup, we will have to play better than we did. But this could be the first step towards something very beautiful."
England were 1-0 down at half-time and conceded a second moments after Teddy Sheringham had equalised with his first touch midway through the second half. But a campaign which began with Keegan's resignation and touched unimagined heights with a 5-1 victory over Germany last month could not be pitched into final disappointment so easily.
The final whistle was followed by scenes of high emotion, a lap of honour led by Beckham and a hearty rendition of the theme from The Great Escape. "It was a bit hairy at times," said Adam Crozier, the chief executive of the Football Association. "But the overriding feeling is one of happiness and pride." England can start counting the days and the money.Reuse content