Walcott treble stuns Croatia
10 Sep 2008 - 22:12:26
Theo Walcott scored an outstanding hat-trick as England stormed to a thumping and unexpected 4-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Croatia in Zagreb.
England head coach Fabio Capello made four changes to the side which started the unconvincing 2-0 win over Andorra.
Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Emile Heskey and Joe Cole all earned starts, with Cole having scored both goals in the victory over Andorra in Barcelona. Glen Johnson, Joleon Lescott, Stewart Downing and Jermain Defoe were the men to drop out.
The early minutes produced little action of note in either goalmouth, but 13 minutes in Croatia almost scored from their first corner of the game, as Vedran Corluka shot wide at the far post after David James fumbled the set-piece.
Ten minutes later England had claims for a penalty waived away after Walcott played a Wayne Rooney ball back across the area from the right and Heskey was barged over.
However, Walcott opened the scoring three minutes later as he took advantage of a defensive mistake to rifle a low right-footer beyond Stipe Pletikosa and just inside the far post.
Walcott threatened again within a minute, before Croatia almost drew level. James flapped at a high free-kick into the area and Mladen Petric's shot was blocked by Brown as England struggled to retain their lead.
The rest of the half passed without incident, as England went in at the interval with a valuable lead.
Eight minutes into the second half Croatia suffered a crucial blow as Robert Kovac was sent off for a foul on Joe Cole, who was forced to exit the game to receive treatment on a nasty head wound.
England took just six minutes to make their man advantage count, as Walcott doubled the lead with another expert finish.
Rooney drifted in off the left flank, exchanged passes with Heskey and played in Walcott, who smashed in another excellent finish across the stranded Pletikosa.
Just four minutes later it was 3-0 as sub Jermaine Jenas won possession on the left and fed Rooney, who had the easy task of sidefooting home from 12 yards out.
Frank Lampard had a goal ruled out before Darijo Srna set up Mario Mandzukic for a consolation strike for the home side, but fittingly Walcott was to have the final word on the evening.
Eight minutes from time Rooney split open a static Croat defence and Walcott glided through to finish left-footed and complete a superb treble.