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England Rejoices After Soccer Win

June 7, 2002

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LONDON (AP) _ England erupted in wild celebrations Friday after its soccer team beat Argentina 1-0 in the World Cup for its first victory over its fierce South American rival since 1966.

The country came to a virtual standstill as the game in Sapporo, Japan, kicked off at 12:30 p.m. local time. Millions gathered to watch on huge TV screens in city squares, pubs, factories, theaters, supermarkets, offices _ even churches. Newspapers described it as ``the longest lunch hour in history.″

The streets of London were nearly deserted during the game.

Across the land, fans went wild as captain David Beckham, an icon in England, scored on a penalty kick just before halftime.

After England withstood a surge of pressure from Argentina in the second half, fans were swept into a party atmosphere as they hailed one of the team’s most satisfying wins in decades.

Byron Vale, a 26-year-old apprentice lawyer, was among hundreds of fans packing a bar in central London.

``It was the sweetest penalty I have ever seen,″ he said of Beckham’s goal. ``I don’t know many people who like the Argentines very much when it comes to soccer, so when we scored people were going absolutely crazy and hugging complete strangers.″

It was estimated 6 million people _ one in every five workers _ stayed away from work to watch the match. In London, an Old Bailey judge even gave jurors in a rape case time off to follow the game.

Some employers offered flexible work hours and set up televisions and provided refreshments. Some businesses gave workers the day off _ as long as they make up the time when the World Cup concludes.

The Center for Economic Research said the absenteeism would cost the country $1 billion in lost output and productivity.

Gareth Abbot, a stock trader at Marshall Securities Ltd. in London, said the phones in his office didn’t ring once throughout the game.

``Nothing at all,″ he said.

British bookmakers said they expected $17.4 million would be wagered on the game, a record for a soccer match.

Queen Elizabeth II, not known as a soccer fan, was kept abreast of the score as she visited an agricultural show in West Sussex. Her grandsons, Princes William and Harry, watched at home in Highgrove. Prime Minster Tony Blair watched from his residence.

Some pubs even charged entry fees of anywhere between $3 and $73 to watch the game.

Some fans went to great lengths to watch the match.

Derek Mwanza, a 30-year-old British Gas customer service representative, donned a pink bikini and roller-skated down the main shopping street in Southampton to raise money for charity as part of a deal with his boss to get the day off.

There is a history of bad blood between the two sides, and the Falklands War is inevitably mentioned when the two countries play soccer. The 10-week conflict in 1982 left more than 700 Argentines and 200 English soldiers dead.

In addition, English fans have never forgiven Argentina for Diego Maradona’s ``Hand of God″ goal in 1986 which helped knock England out of the World Cup.

Four years ago, there was heartache for England again as Beckham was ejected and the team lost to Argentina in a shootout at the World Cup in France.

Argentina’s World Cup fever fizzled into muted silence after the latest chapter of the fierce soccer rivalry that stretches back decades.

Argentine groans were audible as Beckham scored.

At the Rural Fairgrounds, site of Buenos Aires’ annual livestock show and cowboy rodeo, a raucous party was rolling for hundreds of invited guests who watched on a 45-foot high screen.

But the crowd lapsed into stunned silence when Beckham drilled his shot into the net, cutting short the plastic trumpets and noisemakers.

``Unfortunately, the penalty was fair,″ groaned Jorge Jure, an Argentine in the crowd.

That contrasted with uproarious cheers at the Gibraltar Pub in Buenos Aires. British expatriates began applauding wildly as a crowd of about 50 people downed beers and Bloody Mary’s at an hour most drink their morning coffee. The match began at 8:30 a.m. local time.

``I am very excited to see this game in Argentina. We deserve some luck after 1986 and ’98. It’s our turn,″ exclaimed a jubilant James Woodley of Britain as his mates broke out in a British pub song.

Still, some saw the game as a welcome reprieve from four years of grinding economic crisis and near daily protests in the streets over a 20-percent jobless rate.

When Argentina won 1-0 against Nigeria on June 2, thousands of jubilant fans mobbed the Obelisk, a white stone spire in the capital that is a traditional rallying point after soccer victories.

On Friday, some 1,000 police stood guard around that monument in the city center, and loyal fans of the Argentine squad still honked their horns and went past in support of their team.

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