More than a decade on, Michael Owen has admitted that he could have stayed on his feet when winning World Cup penalties against Argentina at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups but estimated that 75% of players would do as he did.
Speaking with the debate about diving in football having been reignited last weekend by Liverpool's Luis Suárez and Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale, the Stoke City striker estimated that three-quarters of his fellow players go to ground on contact.
"I'd say that 75% of people could stay on their feet for a penalty, and if they get touched and go down it is almost, 'Hey I got touched so it's OK to go down,'" said Owen. "I have been guilty as well, I played at the 1998 World Cup against Argentina and I was running flat out, got a nudge, went down. Could I have stayed up? Yes, probably."
Owen was appearing on a panel at the Leaders in Football conference alongside Uefa's refereeing supremo Pierlugi Collina. "Then four years later you [Collina] gave me a penalty again against Argentina," he continued. "Again, I could have stayed on my feet, the defender's caught me and I did have a decent gash down my shin from it – but I could have stayed up."
Owen won England's only two penalties in open play since 1990 in the two matches against Argentina, in the second round in St Etienne in 1998 and in the group stage in Sapporo in 2002. The first was converted by Alan Shearer and four years later David Beckham scored to secure a 1-0 win.
While making clear he was "totally against" diving when there was no contact, Owen sought to explain there was a "major skill" in trying to draw a foul from an opponent in the box.
"It's a very difficult subject to talk about, especially to people who have not played the game. There is a major skill in trying to outwit an opponent," added Owen. "No one is for blatantly diving, of course they are not, but there is a part of a striker that actually tries to entice the leg to come out to try to win a penalty. It is a skill and it has been done for years and years and I don't think it will ever leave the game."
He said that attacking players would inevitably push the boundaries of the rules. "I'm totally against diving, I have never been for it or sought to get a penalty without being touched, but you try to push the boundaries to win a game for your team without cheating," he said.
Roberto Martínez, the Wigan manager, who was also appearing on the panel, admitted there was a cultural difference between Spain and England when it came to diving.
"When you are in Spain and when you are young, to be able to get decisions and penalties from referees is as good a skill as being a good defender, it is not seen as cheating," said Martínez. "It is seen as getting something back for the team. No one sees it as cheating is part of the game."
Collina said that "a player has the right to fall down if a foul was committed". He added: "I understand that a player who was hit by an opponent falls down. If he falls down without any contact this is the problem and if there is no contact this is cheating."