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Rediff News  All News  » Sports » Walcott hat-trick spurs England win

Walcott hat-trick spurs England win

September 11, 2008 07:22 IST

Teenager Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick as an inspired England crushed 10-man Croatia 4-1 in their World Cup Group Six qualifier in Zagreb on Wednesday.

It was the first defeat in 36 qualifiers on home soil for the Croats since they resumed playing competitive football as an independent nation in 1994.

After an evenly balanced opening 20 minutes, England scored following a mistake by Croatia defender Danijel Pranjic who, instead of clearing the ball, fired it into the back of his team mate Robert Kovac.

The ball broke kindly for 19-year-old Walcott, who shot in across the keeper for his first international goal.

Kovac was sent off in the 51st minute for a violent foul on Joe Cole, who suffered a gash on his head and had to be substituted.

Walcott scored his second in the 59th minute with a copy of his first goal with help from Wayne Rooney.

Just four minutes later, Rooney got himself on the scoreboard after a great cross from substitute Jermaine Jenas, who had come on to replace Cole.

Croatia's young forward Mario Mandzukic scored in the 78th minute, his first goal for the national team.


The finishing touch on Walcott's brilliant evening came eight minutes from time when he was again assisted by Rooney and left the helpless Croatia defence behind to easily slot the ball home past Stipe Pletikosa.

He received a noisy reception from English fans when he was substituted three minutes later, making way for David Beckham who recorded his 105th appearance for England.

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic acknowledged England had been the better team but stressed that the qualifying campaign was still in its early stages.

"It is true many perceived us as favourites before the game due to our good string of results in the last two years. However, we all know that England have fantastic players who are able to perform superbly like they did tonight," Bilic said in televised comments.

Croatia had beaten England twice in the Euro 2008 qualifiers and local media had made them favourites to secure three wins in a row.

"We played quite well before England's first goal. After Kovac's red card our game fell apart," Bilic added. "However, this is just one game. We have virtually the whole qualifying campaign ahead and we will be back."

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