CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy’s David Beckham likely will walk over to Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon before Saturday’s match at The Home Depot Center, exchange greetings and then continue his pregame preparations.
But don’t be surprised if Beckham will be sporting a sly grin when he says hello. It was almost 13 years ago, during the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, when Beckham beat Mondragon, then the starting goalkeeper for Colombia’s national team, with one of his trademark freekicks for his first goal as a member of England’s national team.
“I’ll have great memories from seeing him,” he said about Mondragon after training on Tuesday. “It’s nice to be going up against him and hopefully I can do it again,” he added with a laugh.
Saturday will mark the second time they have faced each other since that eventful day, with the other meeting a friendly between the sides at Giants Stadium on May 31, 2005, a game that England won 3-2 with Beckham serving as England captain.
While he does not remember much about that game, Beckham remembers plenty about that World Cup match for England, a 2-0 victory on June 26, 1998 in Lens’ Stade Felix Bollaert. It not only was his first World Cup appearance, but it also was his first start of the competition.
Beckham hadn’t played in his team’s first two games, a 2-0 victory over Tunisia and a 2-1 loss to Romania, but he got the nod against Columbia and couldn’t wait for the match to begin.
“I wasn’t actually that nervous,” he recalled. “I was ready to play in the World Cup. I had prepared myself and I was ready to go. I was excited more than nervous.
“It meant a lot to me that game, scoring my first goal for England, playing in my first World Cup and it was my mum’s birthday. It was kind of special in many ways. It was a good day.”
England had a 1-0 lead on Darren Anderton’s goal in the 20th minute, but nine minutes later Beckham prepared for one of his freekick specialties and scored for a 2-0 advantage.
Mondragon has vivid memories of the day, too.
“I remember it was the third game of the group, and we needed a draw or a win to advance and England needed to win,” he recalled. “And, well, we were down 1-0 and around the 30-minute mark there was a free kick from about 27 or 30 meters and, well, Beckham kicked the ball, it went over the wall and went in just inside the post to my right.
Beckham said he can picture the play, even to this day.
“I still see it going over the wall and knowing I hit it that well,”he said. “I just remember him diving for it and it going in. I remember the celebration with Sol Campbell coming from behind, jumping on my back and almost breaking my back.
“It was a good one.”
Beckham said he can’t wait for Saturday and a chance to renew acquaintances with his old rival.
“It’s been a while and we’re both definitely a little bit older than we were back then,” he said.
Beckham, who turns 36 in May, asked what he thought the odds were he and Mondragon, who will be 40 in June, would be meeting up again so many years later, grinned.
“Very slim. Very slim,” he said with a laugh. “It’s great when you play against players you’ve played against in the past, scored against or come up against. It’s great to see them still playing at a high level.
“It’s going to be nice to play against him again.”
And relive memories from one of the best days of his life.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “Playing for England is always special, but playing for England in a World Cup, scoring and also scoring on my mum’s birthday, it doesn’t really get much better than that.”
And if he gets an opportunity to hit a freekick from a similar spot on Saturday?
“I’m not going to tell you the spot I’ll go, and I’m not going to tell him the spot I’m going to go,” he said with a grin. “I’ll try and score. It would be nice.”