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Sunday, July 2, 2006 - Page updated at 05:45 PM

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Beckham steps down as English captain

The Associated Press

BUEHLERTAL, Germany – David Beckham quit as England captain Sunday, the morning after his team went out in the World Cup quarterfinals on penalties to Portugal.

A tearful Beckham, wearing the England team tracksuit, read a statement to a crowded news conference at England's training camp, stressing that he wanted to continue playing for England.

"I have lived the dream," he said. "I am extremely proud to have worn the armband and been captain of England and for that, I will always be grateful."

First capped at 21 against Moldova in September 1996, Beckham was named captain for the first time by caretaker coach Peter Taylor for a friendly in Italy. He took over the captaincy permanently from Alan Shearer, who retired after the 2000 European Championship.

On Sunday, Beckham said he felt "the time is right to pass on the armband as we enter in a new era" under new coach Steve McClaren, who is taking over as England coach from Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Beckham, 31, has been captain for 58 of his 94 England caps. He said he had decided "some time ago" to quit as captain after this World Cup, his third.

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard or Chelsea defender John Terry are most likely to take over as captain. Both are captains for their Premier League clubs.

Beckham has been England's most famous soccer player for nearly a decade — first for his romance with pop star Victoria Adams of the Spice Girls, then for helping Manchester United win the Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League in 1999.

His celebrity grew to encompass his professional and personal life. "Posh and Becks" became Britain's biggest celebrity couple, even when he moved to Spain's Real Madrid in 2003.

His trademark curling free kicks even inspired the name of the popular 2003 movie "Bend It Like Beckham."

On Saturday, he left the field with a leg injury in the 52nd minute. England played for almost an hour with 10 men after Wayne Rooney was given a red card, but held the Portuguese to 0-0 after 120 minutes.

Beckham could not participate in the penalty shootout, which Portugal won 3-1.

"This decision has been the most difficult of my career to date," he said. "It has been an honor and a privilege to have captained our country and I want to stress that I wish to continue to play for England and look forward to helping both the new captain and Steve McClaren in any way I can."

He said he wrote his statement late Saturday night; after reading it he walked out immediately, to loud applause.

Beckham's first World Cup in 1998 was marred by his red card against Argentina in the second round. That game went to penalties and England lost.

In 2002, Beckham broke a bone in his foot in the leadup to the World Cup. He played every match but wasn't 100 percent and England lost to Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Beckham said the squad was devastated by another quarterfinal exit, this time in Germany.

"Both myself and all the players regret that and are hurt by that more than people realize," he said.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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