Soccer: Beckham's star may be dimmed, but not his smile

By Michael Brown

LA Galaxy 3
Oceania All Stars 0

For most of the crowd at Mt Smart Stadium last night, corners were the most exciting aspect of the night.

Punters jumped out of their seats and raced to the corner to take a snap of Beckham for the family photo album. If there's one thing Beckham is used to, it's the flash of a camera.

On the evidence of last night, though, it will be the last time people in this country will get to see Beckham up close and personal, certainly on a football pitch.

Goldenballs is world football's biggest star but it didn't shine brightly enough to entice Aucklanders to Mt Smart Stadium last night.

Just 16,600 turned up to the game, largely boosted by a generous two-for-one deal late in the week. The swathes of empty seats in the East Stand, though, were a sad sight.

The Auckland Regional Council thought lightning would strike twice after the success of the Galaxy's visit to Wellington last year and forked out US$1.2m (NZ$2.5m) to bring Beckham here. They had hoped for a crowd the equal of the 32,000 who turned out to the Cake Tin.

They were sadly disappointed. A few of the accountants might also raise an enquiring eyebrow considering they had said they would need 19,000 just to break even.

Perhaps it was the credit crunch and there were reports of people walking away when they found out two adult's tickets were $85, not $45. Or perhaps it was Aucklander apathy on display once again.

The quality of the opposition was also questionable.

The Oceania Football Confederation tried to lure some big names for the game, including Ronaldo, Eric Cantona and Patrick Kluivert.

They succeeded with Edgar Davids and Mark Bosnich, but few would have known who the rest of them were.

It didn't help when Bosnich, who can point to Manchester United, Chelsea and Aston Villa on his CV, was substituted at halftime for Jacob Spoonley of Auckland City fame.

Oceania's intentions were admirable. They hoped that by bringing together the best from the Pacific Islands they could convince Australian officials they were worthy of a place in the A-League.

In truth, they were poor. They lacked the skill, bite and cohesion to compete and were no match for a Galaxy side without some of their better players, like Landon Donovan.

Only once was Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders tested, from a Cole Peverely header from 10m out.

Beckham did everything expected of him, except score. He has smiled in his well-practised way since arriving in Auckland and smiled at the right times again last night.

He pulled out a handful of raking passes, sent in some searching crosses and controlled the game in the middle of the park. He played the game at a different speed to others, always one step ahead, and was a figure of calm and control.

He might even have given the game the perfect start but his volley after only one minute and 55 seconds was well saved by Bosnich.

The opening goal followed only 60 seconds later when Jovan Kirovski powered a shot past Bosnich from the edge of the area.

Alan Gordon doubled the lead in the 14th minute, and produced a rousing haka in celebration (he would have picked up a few pointers from a school haka group), before Brandon McDonald scored from a pinpoint Beckham corner.

Unfortunately for the match, it was a sometimes spiteful affair in the second spell. Davids was predictably at the centre of most of it, snapping away at Galaxy heels - including one bite at Beckham for old time's sake - and generally annoying opposition in the way he made famous.

It did little for the spectacle. The game meandered through the second half and lost all meaning when Beckham was substituted with 10 minutes remaining.

It summed up the night, in many ways. It was all a bit flat, and many headed for the exits once the main character had disappeared.

A section of the crowd sang, 'there's only one David Beckham' as the game limped to its end. There is, but even he couldn't ignite this occasion.

- Herald on Sunday

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