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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Beckham bends it to send England through in to Quarter Final

BERLIN (Reuters) - Captain David Beckham delivered one of his trademark bending free kicks to beat Ecuador 1-0 on Sunday and send an otherwise toothless England team through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

Among the pre-tournament favourites, England struggled to create chances for the fourth straight game and were saved early on when defender Ashley Cole rushed back to get a foot on Ecuador striker Carlos Tenorio's close-range shot, deflecting it on to the bar and over.

Beckham came to the rescue one hour into the match, curling a perfect long-range kick into the right corner of keeper Cristian Mora's goal to put England through.

They join former champions Argentina and Germany in the last eight and will face the winner of Sunday's night match between Portugal and the Netherlands.

"It was ugly at times and we haven't played to our full potential but we're happy tonight. We're through to the quarter-finals," Beckham said after the match in the southwestern city of Stuttgart.

Beckham was sick on the pitch during the second half of the match and said he had been feeling unwell before the match.

With Michael Owen out of the finals with a knee injury, England's Swedish coach Sven-Goran Eriksson elected to play 20-year-old striker Wayne Rooney alone up front.

That strategy backfired, with England failing to create a single goalscoring opportunity in a scrappy first half. The Beckham goal re-energised the side and both Rooney and midfielder Frank Lampard had scoring opportunities as the final whistle approached.


But England will probably have to improve significantly if they are to advance against Portugal or the Netherlands.

The Dutch, relying on occasional flashes of brilliance from wingers Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, emerged from a tough Group C with two wins and a draw.

They face a Portugal side that has lost only once against them in nine previous meetings and beat them 2-1 in the European championships two year ago -- the last loss for the Netherlands in a competitive match.

Portugal's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led Brazil to the championship in 2002, will be looking to extend his run of 10 consecutive victories in World Cup matches.

England's fans caused trouble in Stuttgart in the days leading up to the match.

Local police detained 400 English fans on Saturday after fighting broke out with German supporters. The rival groups threw bottles, tables and chairs in a square in the city centre before riot police intervened.

On Friday, 122 English fans were held for aggressive behaviour.

"Anybody who is with any group that throws bottles or other missiles, that will not be tolerated," Stuttgart police chief Siegfried Stumpf said.