A difficult qualification campaign had seen three different people take charge of the Three Lions but five consecutive Group Nine wins under new boss Sven-Goran Eriksson had seen hopes of topping the group reignited.
It all came down to the last match against Greece, with an eye on Germany's home fixture against Finland too, but entering stoppage time at Old Trafford it was going horribly wrong for the hosts.
Greece were 2-1 up despite substitute Teddy Sheringham's 68th-minute effort and with the Germans drawing, it was they who were set to qualify automatically and England would need to beat Ukraine in a qualifier.
Captain Beckham had other ideas though, and a stunning long-range free-kick into the top corner took the roof off his home stadium and sent Erikssen's side through to the finals in South Korea and Japan.
After only being awarded the captaincy 11 months earlier, it was the latest step on the road to redemption for the Manchester United midfielder, who had been chastised for his red card at the 1998 World Cup against Argentina.
He would gain revenge at the tournament in South Korea and Japan with a penalty to defeat Argentina 1-0 in the group stage, but another free-kick ended England's hopes of glory in the tournament.
Ronaldinho's effort from range outwitted David Seaman in the quarter-finals and Brazil would march on to the final where they beat Germany 2-0 to be crowned world champions again.
Beckham would remain England captain until 2006 – with the midfielder now plying his trade at Real Madrid – and made his 100th appearance for his country two years later before he surpassed Bobby Moore's tally of 108 caps a year later.
A ruptured Achilles tendon at AC Milan prevented him from playing at the 2010 World Cup and with Fabio Capello eager to look to the future after, the Leytonstone-born footballer never played for his country again.
The former LA Galaxy ace retired from playing in 2013 after a short spell at Paris St Germain and is now co-owner of new MLS club Inter Miami while also a director at Sky Bet League Two outfit Salford City.