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Emotional matches ahead for Becks

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Soccer and sentiment go hand in hand for David Beckham at the moment, and that suits him just fine.

The draw for the Champions League knockout phase, which set up a return to his first love, Manchester United, for the AC Milan loanee, facilitated what will be an emotional night at Old Trafford on March 10.

If that is one date with three stars alongside it in the Beckham diary, then the other will surely be June 12, when England and the U.S. go head-to-head in the opening World Cup match for both teams.

The fact that the 34-year-old midfielder will be pitted against the nation where he has chosen to make his home with the Los Angeles Galaxy is one of those soccer coincidences that always seem to pop up.

And whereas until recently there was some legitimate doubt over whether the English midfielder would claim a place on his national team, it would now appear to require something drastic to keep him away from South Africa.

England head coach Fabio Capello admitted last week that, provided Beckham stays healthy and plays regularly during his loan stint with AC Milan, he is guaranteed a place in the tournament.

With Beckham starting and playing 75 productive minutes for the Rossoneri in a 5-2 thumping of Genoa on Wednesday, those boxes are already being ticked.

The date with destiny in the South Africa city of Rustenburg moves ever closer, and though an expectant English nation is already gleefully predicting a winning start, Beckham sounded a note of caution to his compatriots.

"I must admit I laughed when the draw came out," he said. "It is going to be great; the USA is such a passionate country and such believers in the growth of the game over there. Of course, I still hope we beat them.

"But any time you have a connection like this it always adds something extra to the game. There is going to be massive interest and we won't be taking them lightly. We did well against them in a friendly game but we have to be careful."

England completely dominated a friendly between the sides at London's Wembley Stadium in May 2008, winning 2-0 thanks to goals from John Terry and Steven Gerrard.

However, the consistent improvement in Bob Bradley's U.S. side since then has not gone unnoticed by Beckham, whose own production for the Galaxy last season increased dramatically.

"They are a good team and they are getting better all the time," he said of the Americans. "They did well in the Confederations Cup. I feel like we have the team to do well in the World Cup, but this will definitely be a challenging way to start things off and I can't wait.

"My career and my life has always been full of surprises, either good or bad. Fortunately I have had a lot more good than bad."

Bradley and his players will hope to give Beckham a surprise of a more unpleasant nature in five months.

Group C watch

England – Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that Michael Owen's hopes of reaching the World Cup are being hindered by the superb form of Wayne Rooney.

Algeria – Nadir Belhadj's immediate future is uncertain as cash-strapped Portsmouth has failed to keep up the payments on his $6 million transfer from French side Lens last season.

Slovenia – Inter Milan youngster Rene Krhin could be on his way to Lazio as part of a swap involving highly rated left-back Aleksandar Kolarov.

Smiles

Chelsea's Michael Essien has recovered from his hamstring trouble and will join up with Ghana for its African Cup of Nations campaign.

Tears

Carlos Tevez has admitted that the rigors of international soccer are placing too much strain on his body and that he is considering quitting the Argentina national team after the World Cup.

World Cup numerology

155 – Population, in millions, of Nigeria, which is one of six nations bidding to become the first African winner of the World Cup.

Put it on your calendar

March 3 – The USA's Group C rival, England, takes on Egypt in a friendly at Wembley Stadium.