Beckham’s 100th cap is real crowd pleaser

Special to The Times

PARIS -- In the beginning the swath of England fans sang “God Save The Queen” and the booming French majority sang “Le Marseillaise,” but come the 63rd minute of a Wednesday night fray, all 78,500 achieved unison.

Citizens from both sides of the English Channel stood in the Stade de France during an England-France soccer friendly to applaud one David Beckham, Londoner, Angeleno, citizen of Earth, as he exited the pitch for a substitute.

That served as gracious note of his 100th appearance in an England uniform, a milestone with only four peers in the sprawling 136-year history of a national team that began with a ruckus against Scotland in Glasgow in 1872.

“Yeah, it was amazing,” Beckham said. “Both sets of fans. Obviously you sort of expect it from your own fans, but I thank them for it,” and by “them” he meant the French, whereupon he proclaimed Paris “one of my favorite cities.”


As Beckham elbowed into the “100 club” alongside Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Sir Bobby Charlton and goalkeeper Peter Shilton, France beat England, 1-0, in a lukewarm friendly that meant various things. The French, scoring on Franck Ribery’s 32nd-minute penalty kick, bolstered preparation for the Euro 2008 tournament coming in summer. The English, shooed from Euro 2008 during qualifying last fall, waged a second get-acquainted match under new Coach Fabio Capello. And Beckham said he proved that legs don’t have to be decrepit just because they’re 32 years old and outrageously traveled.

Beckham, having flown in from Los Angeles on Saturday night and due to fly back today to rejoin the Galaxy, declared that “the most important thing for me tonight was to prove my fitness” and that he’d done so. Fitness had been the stated issue when Capello omitted Beckham from the English squad in the manager’s debut, a 2-1 win over a less-scary -Switzerland team on Feb. 6. As his English teammates’ season winds down toward the May curtains, Beckham’s Galaxy awaits its opener on Saturday. Two-a-days in California seemed to work, especially in the 38th minute when Beckham went on a hapless chase of Ribery, barging clumsily into the 25-year-old and drawing a yellow card from German referee Florian Meyer.

“I’m very happy about David Beckham’s performance,” Capello said in Italian. “He played like I know he can play. I only substituted him because I wanted to see other players and I know him very well,” from their 2006-07 season as manager and player at Real Madrid.

Out went Beckham, in went David Bentley, 23, and up went the English -- and the French.

A hint of the appreciation flickered during pre-match introductions on the giant video screens, when the announcement of Beckham wearing No. 7 for England drew a matchless roar that came from everywhere. The TV cameras trained on Beckham -- one of their favorite people -- during the national anthems. Capello gave Beckham an instruction in Spanish -- as opposed to the English in team meetings and Italian with the press -- and out he went wearing golden boots.

Eleven years, seven months and 100 matches after debuting for England at Moldova on Sept. 1, 1996, and 20 months after yielding his captaincy and getting dropped from the team, Beckham hopped out across midfield for “cap” No. 100.

He started on the right edge of England’s midfield, and even as debate simmered at home over whether his selection owed partly to ceremony, in the stadium he remained ever appreciated. From behind the English goal, English fans employed the tune of “Guantanamera” to sing, “One David Beckham, there’s only one David Beckham.”

In turn, he pivoted their way and gave them his own round of applause.

Still employed for his mastery of set pieces -- and never anybody’s idea of swift -- he drew an early ooh from English fans for an early cross-field pass into the goal area, but nothing came of it. He might’ve loosed bedlam at 13 minutes, but he slid a mite too late to corral Ashley Cole’s cross after it squirted through the hands of goalkeeper Gregory Coupet.

Anticipation seemed ripe with Beckham’s two corner kicks, and one did connect at 49 minutes, but the beanpole Peter Crouch headed that well over the goal. Otherwise, the viewers had to go with his clunky chase of Ribery, but also a long and gorgeous cross at 62 minutes to Stuart Downing, one of Capello’s second-half subs. Downing couldn’t handle it, and Capello summoned Beckham, and everybody stood, and from the soccer geriatric who said he’d like to keep on going well past 100, everybody got a wave.

“Definitely not goodbye,” Beckham said. “Just a thank you.”