England became the first team to win a competitive game in Croatia, thanks to Theo Walcott's hat-trick.
Croatia 1-4 England
2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifier
8pm, Wednesday 10 September 2008
Maksimir Stadium, Zagreb
England stated their intentions in Group Six as they delivered an emphatic victory in Zagreb to put themselves firmly in the driving seat with six points from two games.
Prior to the game debate had centred upon whether the youth of Theo Walcott would remain or the experience of David Beckham would be required.
There was little doubt at the final whistle about the decision to keep Walcott in the starting eleven as the Arsenal forward scored three goals in a thrilling England victory.
Having started with Walcott against the Andorrans, Fabio Capello kept faith in the young winger, while he was also able to recall Rio Ferdinand and restore Saturday's matchwinner Joe Cole to the starting eleven.
Just as with England's previous visit to the intimidating Maksimir Stadium, the Croatian fans did all they could to provide a hostile atmosphere for the visitors.
The orchestrated chanting of three sides of this industrial stadium was only bettered by an impressive rendition of "Lijepa nasa Domovino" (Our Beautiful Homeland) - the Croatian national anthem.
On this occasion, the atmosphere would inspire the England team as they became the first team to win a competitive game in Croatia.
Danijel Pranjic stung the palms of David James with the first meaningful attack, a move orchestrated be the diminuitive Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Luka Modric.
Soon England would have an opportunity of their own as Emile Heskey, who kept his place after coming on at half time against Andorra, earned a free-kick 30 yards from goal.
Frank Lampard stepped up and drove a low shot that deflected wide for a corner kick. Though Croatia cleared the delivery, a lofted pass from Lampard almost put Walcott through only to see the ball stick under his feet.
Both Vedran Corluka and Mladen Petric made inspired runs from Croatia's right flank, and despite giving the England defence cause for concern Gareth Barry and John Terry both timed their blocks to perfection and the danger was averted.
The Three Lions then saw claims for a penalty turned down by referee Lubos Michel, as Emile Heskey went down after a neat move as Wayne Rooney and Walcott combined well to deliver the ball into the area.
It mattered not as Theo Walcott scored his first goal for England in only his second start, latching on to a fortunate deflection off the knee of Robert Kovac.
The Arsenal midfielder then drove the ball hard and true into the bottom corner to the delight of the visiting supporters. The goal came from a sublime run by Rio Ferdinand, as the defender stepped forward to beat two players and provide Rooney with the ball and from there, Walcott was picked out.
It could have been two for Walcott just moments later, as the number seven found space in the area once more only for Stipe Pletikosa to palm the ball out for a corner.
Just as easily, the scores could have been level as Petric fired a loose ball into a crowded goalmouth, but Wes Brown was in the right place at the right time to deflect the ball clear.
Joe Cole had given away a free-kick just yards from the corner flag, and from Modric's delivery came the chance for Petric.
The first card of the game came as Croatia found an alternative way of stopping the lightning pace of Walcott, with Josip Simunic the offender.
England went into the break a goal to the good, and would return from the dressing room unchanged, as would Croatia.
The first chance came from a free-kick as Simunic once again blocked an onrushing England forward, this time it was Rooney, just 25 yards from goal.
Lampard stepped up for a second time and this time drove through the wall and Pletikosa could not hold the ball.
A major flashpoint came minutes later as Robert Kovac caught Cole with an elbow and referee Michel had little choice but to send the experienced defender off.
Within minutes, Walcott had made it two with an incredible goal to put England firmly in the driving seat. Barry started the move and Heskey, Rooney and Lampard combined to create the opportunity for Walcott to smash the ball into the bottom corner.
It was a truly magical goal from defence through to attack, with purposeful possession that gave England the lift they needed after losing Cole to the head injury caused by Kovac's arm.
Rooney then made it three as Jermaine Jenas, who replaced Cole, stole the ball on the edge of the area and put it on a plate for the Manchester United man to side foot home from 12 yards.
England were in dreamland with a man advantage and three goals ahead, beyond even the most optimistic predictions prior to the game.
England dominated the match as it edged towards a conclusion and the referee denied Lampard a stunning goal that would have made it 4-0. The Chelsea midfielder traded passes with Ashley Cole before driving the ball into the bottom corner, but Heskey was adjudged to have impeded Simunic in the build up.
It may not have seemed a crucial intervention at the time, but when Mario Mandzukic scored just moments later it put an element of doubt back into the game that had not previously been there.
Terry appeared to be caught by Srna in build up to the goal, but Michel waved play on and when Srna found Mandzukic in space on the penalty spot, David James could not prevent the goal as the Croatian substitute slid home a composed finish.
It would not matter however as Theo Walcott crowned an incredible night for the young man as he completed his hat-trick.
Latching on to a delightful ball from Rooney, Walcott kept his cool and guided the ball into the bottom corner with his left foot confirming an incredible evening in Zagreb.England
1 David James, 2 Wes Brown, 3 Ashley Cole, 4 Gareth Barry, 5 Rio Ferdinand, 6 John Terry (14 Matthew Upson, 89), 7 Theo Walcott (17 David Beckham, 86) 8 Frank Lampard, 9 Emile Heskey, 10 Wayne Rooney, 11 Joe Cole (16 Jermaine Jenas, 51)Substitutes
12 Paul Robinson, 13 Glen Johnson, 15 Stewart Downing, 18 Jermain Defoe
Walcott 26, 59, 82, Rooney 63
1 Stipe Pletikosa, 3 Josip Simunic, 4 Robert Kovac, 5 Vedran Corluka, 6 Danijel Pranjic, 7 Ivan Rakitic, 9 Mladen Petric, 10 Niko Kovac (c), 11 Darijo Srna, 14 Luka Modric, 18 Ivica Olic (8 Mario Mandzukic, 73)Substitutes
12 Vedran Runje, 2 Ivica Krizanac, 13 Nikola Pokrivac, 15 Dario Knezevic, 16 Jerko Leko, 17 Ivan KlasnicGoals
Slaven BilicMatch Officials
Lubos Michel (Slovakia)Assistant Referees
Martin Balko and Roman Csabay (Slovakia)
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