Soccer: Johnson ready for Beckham rematch

By Harris Choy

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Wellington Phoenix midfielder Richard Johnson did put one past David Beckham a few seasons ago.

Johnson scored a goal for Watford against Beckham's star-studded Manchester United at Old Trafford in a Premier match back in the 1999-2000 English soccer season.

"We got smashed 4-1," Johnson recalled this week.

Johnson, who has recovered from a hamstring strain that sidelined him against Melbourne Victory last Saturday, hopes to get another go at one of the world's highest paid and profiled players when the Phoenix meet Beckham's American outfit LA Galaxy in Wellington tomorrow night.

The $2 million match has captured the imagination of the Wellington fans and a sellout crowd (35,000) is expected at Westpac Stadium. The Galaxy played before an 80,000 capacity crowd against another A-League side, Sydney FC, in Sydney on Tuesday.

Johnson, 27 and who played 11 seasons in England, said the work rate of the Manchester United superstar was highly impressive.

"I was lucky to get onto the pitch then and actually scored a goal," Johnson said.

"It was pretty exciting, they had a team full of superstars in those days.

"It was rare left-footed goal (from) just outside the box and it hit the top corner, so it was pretty good."

Johnson said he remembered Beckham clearly, and wasn't surprised with his rise in the sport.

"The celebrity bit probably has (surprised me) the way it's gone for him but as a footballer it hasn't. You could tell back then that he was a bit special.

"It was their work rate that left a lasting impression in me. You learn from that. Obviously they're good footballers but that doesn't always get you there at the end of the day. They're extremely hard-working."

Beckham said his team were serious about tomorrow's match and preferred to mix it with some fun.

He was yellow carded in Sydney for a payback tackle after twisting an ankle.

Nevertheless, he didn't disappoint the fans, scoring with his trademark free-kick even though they lost 3-5.

He said he enjoyed the physical game against Sydney and was looking forward to a similar type of game tomorrow.

"If you ask any competitive sportsman there is really no friendly games and it proved it the other night."

Phoenix captain Ross Aloisi said playing Beckham would be a highlight of his career.

Neither he nor his coach Ricki Herbert wanted the match to turn heated as it did in Sydney.

"I'd be disappointed if there was anything sort of malicious, they know what the club represents but sometimes football can be difficult," Herbert said of his team.

"We'll respect him and we'll certainly be competitive, we want to do well, we've got our own pride to keep intact and the fans will be there, and not just Wellington will be watching but the whole of New Zealand."

Beckham, who captained England in last year's World Cup, played his 99th international in the 2-3 loss to Croatia last week and wants to continue to the next World Cup.


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