England vs Argentina

England’s second round opponents Argentina had enjoyed a fairly straight forward progression to the 2nd round, advancing as winners of Group H with a 100% record.

Somewhat fortuitously Argentina would face their toughest opponents in Group H on matchday 3, at a time when both sides had already guaranteed qualification.

Argentina would open their campaign at France 98 with a game against World Cup debutants Japan in Toulouse, and despite the scoreline only being 1-0, after a 28th minute Batistuta strike, Argentina were comfortable victors.

Matchday 2 saw Argentina take on another World Cup debutant, in the form of Jamaica, at the Parc des Princes in Paris.

While Jamaica would put up a willing fight for the opening half, Argentina scoring in 31 minutes through Ortega, the second half saw the damn break and a flood of goals ensued. Ortega would double his goal tally on 55 minutes, but a Gabriel Bastistuta hattrick rounded off proceedings with a 5-0.

Matchday 3 pitched Argentina against Croatia who had gained a lot of traction as team by this point in 1998, after their inaugural International Tournament appearance at Euro 96. Despite having to qualify via the playoffs for France 98 Croatia were a serious outfit and were lead by Davor Suker & Zvonimir Boban, two of the worlds top talents of the time.

With both sides on six points and guaranteed to progress from Group H there was less of an edge to the game, however it would remain a close affair with both sides creating chances. Left back Mauricio Pineda, of Udinese, would score the games only goal on 36 minutes, after making a forward run in behind the Croatia back line, controlling the ball well and applying a quality finish past the Croatian Keeper Ladic.

Matchday Preview

Much of the build up to this match focused on the last time England met Argentina in the World Cup, a game that brought us two moments of infamy from a certain Diego Maradona.

The BBC asked Hoddle about his feelings toward the Argentines, having been an England player in the last meeting in 1986.

“I’ve never used the word ‘revenge’”, Hoddle told the LA Times, “It’s a horrible word and I don’t like it. Redressing the balance is what I’m talking about, turning that result around and getting it out of our systems. That moment has stayed with us for a long time.”

Looking at the line ups each Coach had virtually their strongest squad available to them, so this match promised to be a seriously exciting encounter.

England Starting Line Up

Gary Neville once again retained his place in the starting lineup, with Southgate now back fit and available to play from the bench.

Michael Owen was also included again from the start, hoping to build on what has been a terrific tournament performance thus far. The partnership he is forming with Shearer has also been impressive, working in service of each other and combining well to create multiple chances throughout the games thus far.

Ince & Beckham formed a two man midfield in this match, with Scholes positioned just in front designed to link from deep with the strikers. In reality, once the game got into full flow we’d see Scholes dropping deeper to form a more cohesive line of three when England were defending.

Argentina Starting Line Up

Nestor Sensini had started the tournament as the preferred center back partner of Roberto Ayala, however injury to Sensini in the opening game would curtail his participation throughout the group stage and would stretch further into this match. In his place would come in Nelson Vivas who had traditionally operated as a right back, but would convert to a central position.

Even with Pineda scoring in the final game of Group H from left back, he would be replaced by Jose Chamot of Lazio in the left full back position.

Javier Zanetti at right wing back was in sparkling form at France 98, and was arguably one of the best full backs in the world by this point. His ability to defend well was beautifully complemented by his pace and power going forward. His technical ability to create attacks inside the final third, from wide areas, is a huge asset to this Argentina side.

Arguably Argentina’s strongest asset was their three man midfield, that worked together so well as a trio. Almeyda provided the defensive stability at the base of Argentina’s aggressive forward press, which utilized the midfielders and strikers to pin the opponent quickly to one side of the field.

In Juan Seba Veron Argentina had a wonderful passer from all angles and distances, but his creative spark also allowed him to combine in tight areas to break down deep defenses.

Simeone is someone who offers a combination of both Almeyda and Veron, a wonderfully energetic player that is always looking to make a penetrative run or make a penetrative pass. As the captain of the side he also demonstrates an ability to organize and lead from the front, something that we have now become accustomed to in his coaching career.

In the striking positions Argentina have an embarrassment of riches, possessing three of Seria A’s top strikers of the time, Abel Balbo (Roma), Hernan Crespo (Parma) and Gabriel Batistuta (Fiorentina). Add into that mix Claudio Lopez of Valencia and Marcelo Delgado of Racing, later of Boca Juniors, we see that Argentina Head Coach Daniel Passarella has some serious fire power available to him.

For this one he would again turn to Lopez and Batistuta, a partnership that had started the opening games of the tournament. They are similar to Owen and Shearer in many regards as their individual skill sets, while totally different, work in service of each other.

The fulcrum of this Argentina side would come in the form of Ariel Ortega who would take up the attacking midfielder position. Without any natural width to this Argentina side, Ortega is charged with finding the space that allows him to become Argentina’s spare man in possession, living behind opposition lines of pressure and turning to create attacks in the final third. We will see in the clips that he is given creative license to roam free in search of the ball, but when he picks up possession the magic really starts to happen.

Argentina would be managed by legendary player Daniel Passarella, who after a five-year stint as Head Coach of River Plate would replace Alfio Basile as the national team manager in 1994.

Passarella’s system was in many regards similar to the diamond 442 that Colombia had used in the last match of the group stages. With that said the more dynamic movements from their attackers also gives it a modern day 433 feel, with Ortega dropping deep like a false nine and the wide forwards making diagonal central runs.

Overall this was going to be a tough task for Hoddle and his England side, who had simply not faced a side of Argentina’s quality in the tournament thus far.

First Half Analysis

Argentina Attack Play

Argentina started the game by making lots of penetrative passes into the strikers. It was clear this was in an attempt to assert themselves in possession, but also to put England on the back foot early in the match.

In the fourth minute what appeared to be an innocuous ball forward from Ortega is not dealt with by the England back line, leaving Batistuta to flick on a header to Simeone who had made a run into the box.

Seaman’s attempts to slide in and win the ball are met with the opportunistic Simeone who uses the keepers momentum to ride the challenge and seek a penalty, that is then awarded by Kim Milton Nielsen.

The strike from Batistuta was an impressive one, giving Argentina a very early lead.

Argentina Combination Play

As the half progressed Argentina consistently broke the lines of England’s midfield due to their positional and numerical superiority.

Numerically, the Argentina system creates a 4 vs 3 centrally, testing England’s ability to zonally cover the central areas and pick up the spare man.

Positionally, Argentina’s midfield were disciplined in maintaining good distances between each other, something that a diamond 4 in midfield can actually work to prevent due to overcrowding of players wanting the ball.  

The pattern we saw multiple times from Argentina was a simple up-back and through, something that has now become synonymous in the teams Guardiola and Bielsa manage.

This move is initiated with a simple pass into the striker or an advanced Ortega, the target then laying the ball back, or sideways, into the path of an advancing run, with the receiver then playing a killer through ball to the second striker.

This not only tested England’s central defensive resolve, but also challenged the England midfield in being able to track runners effectively.

Argentina Forward Press

Another area of play that helped Argentina maintain a high level of possession came in the moments after they turned the ball over.  

It was evident from the first whistle that Passarella had set up Argentina to aggressively press the ball, both in each players individual defensive actions and the overall movement of the team.

Pressing in a diamond requires a lot of connectivity between the lines of Argentina’s team. The system favors the vertical axis, such is the amount of players it possesses in the central portion of the field, however it exposes the horizontal spaces if lateral movements are not applied quickly.

To compensate for the lack of width we saw Passarella ask his strikers to quickly lock the ball on one side of the field, which then required the midfielders behind them to move laterally and pick up the opponent’s options around the ball.

In these clips we see how quickly Argentina are in reacting to turn overs in possession. Almost immediately they are trying to prevent an England attack, applying pressure on the ball carrier but allowing him to play a backwards/sidways pass to reset play. This negative ball movement is the trigger for the attacking unit (four central midfielders and two strikers) to aggressively step forward and press the England receiver (typically a center back) and anyone nearby. Quite often this resulted in England turning the ball back over and allowing Argentina to create an attack of their own.

England Defensive Shape

Out of possession Hoddle positioned Owen and Shearer on the same line as Scholes, instructing all three forwards to drop off and not step to the ball. At the back, the wing backs would drop to form a back five and connect with the center backs, with Adams marshalling an aggressive defensive line to keep the spaces between the defense and midfield to a minimum.

England Counter Attacks

With Argentina dominating much of the possession and pressing very aggressively when they turn it over, England had no choice but to stay on the back foot and bide their time in choosing when to attack.

In Paul Scholes and David Beckham England have the creativity and craft to break down an opponent in transition, yet when we add the movement and pace of Owen into the mix quickly Argentina’s aggressive approach appears rather vulnerable.

Both of England’s goals came from terrific counterattack play, each highlighting the threat England carry should they evade Argentina’s initial lines of pressure.

Scholes and Owen would punish Nelson Vivas poor positioning, reading the play incorrectly and giving Owen space to advance forward into during the lead up to Shearer’s penalty. For England’s second goal Campbell would win possession at the top of the box with a terrific tackle, that lead to Beckham and Owen combining to make a mockery of Argentina’s defensive shape. After evading the central midfielder Owen identifies the vacant space to the side of Ayala left vacant by Chamot, who had made an attacking run, so attacks that channel before striking wonderfully into the far corner.

Argentina Set Pieces

With the first half drawing to a close Argentina would be handed a gift at the top of the box on 45 minutes, after a clumsy foul on Lopez by Campbell would hand them a life line.

Argentina would capitalize fully by utilizing a well crafted set piece that left England’s defensive wall in bemusement. Argentina had used a similar set up earlier in the half, which would culminate in a Batistuta strike from distance.

Perhaps this was by design, but on 45 minutes Argentina would lull England into a false sense of security by lining up as if to strike again from the top of the box.

The second kick was markedly different however, with Batistua running over the ball and Veron following in to slip a pass to Javier Zanetti, who had peeled off to the side of the England wall before slamming home an equalizing goal into the roof of the net.

As Kim Milton Neilsen blew for halftime it brought to the first half to an end, a truly remarkable opening half of football that at 2-2 is finely poised to be a classic. Two goals apiece from eight England attacks and nine Argentina attacks seems a very healthy conversion rate for both sides, who will both feel they have a chance of progressing to the quarter finals.  

Second Half Analysis

Both teams re-entered the field for the second half unchanged, however the opening stages of the second half would have a massive effect on the direction this game was about to take.

Beckham Red Card (46 minutes)

Beckham had shown magnificent energy in the first half and, while not quite on the level of his last performance against Colombia, he was progressively growing into the match.

On 46 minutes however we would see a petulant side to Beckham which perhaps illustrated his lack of experience at the top level. After a blatant foul by Simeone, a tackle he would receive a yellow card, Beckham kicks out in full view of the referee. While its by no means a violent attack on Simeone, Beckham found himself being red carded for lashing out, leaving his teammates with a mountain to climb.

England Defensive Shape Change

With England down to ten men Hoddle didn’t turn to his bench immediately, instead altering the team shape with those remaining into a 4-4-1.

England Defensive Fragility

By moving to two lines of four this now presented an already vulnerable central core with simply too much ground to cover. Ince and Anderton simply couldn’t cover all the bases, so by moving away from a three-man midfield they were bypassed regularly.

Argentina Build Up Play

As England sank deeper to connect the defensive and midfield lines more, also negating the ability to play a ball over the top, this presented Juan Sebastian Veron the time and space to begin picking passes at from deep, thus getting more entry balls into the box.

England In Attack

In attack, any hope England had of progressing the ball gradually through the field was all but gone when they were reduced to ten men.

The frequency of their counterattack play was significantly reduced in the 2nd half, however in Shearer and Owen they still possessed two players who could create something out of nothing. In the clip we see the only real threat from open play in the second half, Owen again showing his qualities when given the space to hurt the opponent.

Second Half Substitutions

Hoddle would make two changes in the second half, bringing on Gareth Southgate for Graeme Le Saux on 71 minutes, and Paul Merson for Paul Scholes on 78. Southgate would move into center back beside Adams, with Campbell moving out to left back, with Merson a direct replacement for Scholes on the left of a midfield four.

Neither substitution made any real sense other than offering a tiring England side more energy in the closing moments of the second half.

Passarella would make the bolder of the changes in the match, removing Lopez and Batistuta on the 68th minute for Crespo and Gallardo. Perhaps he felt the new pairing offered better movement in breaking down England’s low block? Perhaps he was trying to keep them fresh for the next round as he expected them to advance. Personally I didn’t feel either lacked any threat, leading me to surmise that it was just a bizarre decision to take.  

Campbell Disallowed Goal

On 85 minutes Darren Anderton would supply a wicked ball into the box at which point players from both sides attack the ball. Argentina who had been using a zonal system quickly move to pick up Campbell and Shearer who the ball is sailing towards. Campbell has moved from the back post into the center to meet the ball, perhaps moving into Shearer’s natural attacking zone which he has cleared for himself.

What comes next is a crescendo of bodies meeting the ball in the air, with the last touch coming from Sol Campbell as he directs the ball into the back of the net with his forehead. With Campbell and his England teammates wheeling away in celebration referee Neilsen finds there to be a foul on Argentina keeper Carlos Roa, thus cancelling out the goal and allowing Argentina to attack forward unopposed.

Extra Time Analysis

With the game ending 2-2 after ninety minutes, it presented a new challenge for both coaches to potentially adjust their strategy as the sides headed into extra time.

Passarella removed his captain Simeone in favor of Sergio Berti at the start of extra time, perhaps with the threat that he may receive another yellow card and even up the numbers. Berti’s substitution was another like for like change tactically, with him performing a similar role to that of Simeone.  

Hoddle would wait to 97 minutes to introduce David Batty, replacing Darren Anderton, a move that potentially should have taken place as soon as Beckham was sent off on 46 minutes. He instantly added more bite to England’s midfield, winning more tackles and getting England on the front foot more frequently in transition.

Argentina Attack Play

With England now firmly camped in their own half throughout extra time, Argentina grew frustrated at the lack of space available and resorted to shots from distance.

While Argentina certainly had enough quality to trouble Seaman from range, the game would remain locked at 2-2 after the additional thirty minutes and would head to penalties to decide the winner.

Penalty Shootout

With Berti and Shearer converting their opening penalties, England would be handed the advantage as Hernan Crespo’s effort was saved by David Seaman, but they were unable to capitalize upon on it as Ince’s penalty would be saved by Carlos Roa in an almost identical fashion.

Goals from Veron, Merson, Gallardo and Owen would take us to 3-3 headed into the last penalties. Ayala would convert expertly for Argentina, placing all the pressure on David Batty who found himself on the final penalty for England.

As Batty makes contact, we can see that Roa has already decided which way he is diving, which turns out to be the correct decision.

Batty, with his head down looking at the ball throughout the kick, strikes the shot like a pass with the inside of his foot. This naturally takes some of the pace off the strike, compared to a laces drive, therefore it makes it easier for Roa to adjust his hands while diving and reach up to make the save.

There has been arguments over the years as to why Batty was selected to take this penalty, however given the players left on the field and the lack of subs Hoddle had available, its perhaps commendable that he had the confidence to step forward and take one. Its certainly not the best penalty technique we’ll ever see, but its perhaps a touch unfortunate that the miss came as a result of some terrific goal keeping from Carlos Roa.

The Final Word

Given all the possession Argentina had in the game they will be disappointed that their attacking output was only marginally better than their opponent. Finishing with 24 shots to England’s 18, we could extend this further to the amount of high-quality scoring chances, and yet again both sides would run each other close.

Penalty kicks is a tough way to lose any game, especially for an England side who had battled almost 75 minutes with ten men. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me was the way in which Hoddle failed to tactically solve the problems his team faced in the second half.

Had Hoddle replaced Anderton with Batty after the red card, and altered the shape to a 4-3-2, it may have allowed his side to achieve what they set out to do but in a slightly more effective fashion.

Defensively they now could push play into wide areas, and importantly negating central penetrative passes away from Ortega, and offensively still had Owen positioned on the high line to attack through balls in transition.

Personally I think Hoddle got his strategy wrong after the Beckham red card, the shape was far too submissive and allowed Argentina to attack spaces that England were too vulnerable in.

The Southgate substitution for Le Saux made sense, as he wanted a back line that were all able to defend cross balls, but to replace Scholes with Merson was a real head scratcher. Especially given McManaman was available to play off the left and carried a threat in transition.

One thing we cannot question is how hard his side fought for him to see out the game and take the match to penalty kicks. Despite all the subsequent comments I’ve read about Hoddle’s relationship with his players, there was something very evident about their reaction to Beckham’s red card that showed a strength in unity that Hoddle had engendered.

In contrast you could see the confidence drain out of Argentina who, in spite of all their advantages, simply couldn’t find an answer during the 120 minutes.

Let’s leave the conclusion to this match to the BBC website, who would write:

The conclusion many in England will draw is a familar one.

As has often been the case in recent years, a proud England team took part in the most dramatic match of the tournament, and narrowly lost to leave everyone asking: “What if?”

And of course yet again, what if England’s penalty takers were as accurate as their opponents?

This time it will be Ince and Batty who must come to terms with something Gareth Southgate, Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce all learned to live with.

But each one of the players will no doubt return home with a feeling of great disappointment that they so narrowly missed out.

Thank you to everyone who has been following this series, we look forward to continue providing you with continued quality Retro Football Analysis in the future.

In the meantime, you can subscribe to our podcast and help us grow this magnificent community by sharing these articles on your social media feed. We are so proud of the work we are producing, especially as it meets the needs of those that appreciate the finer points of vintage football.


About the Author

Picture of Alistair Bain

Alistair Bain

Alistair is a native of Hamilton, Scotland, and an A License qualified coach with vast experience in the football industry. Currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Alistair's resume includes a variety of roles within football clubs in Scotland, England, and the United States.

Related Articles

England vs Tunisia

England vs Romania

England vs Colombia

Manchester United vs Arsenal