England V Croatia
9 Sep 2009
England 5 - 1 Croatia
England booked their place at next summer's World Cup with an emphatic 5-1 dismissal of Croatia at Wembley Stadium.
After Ukraine drew 0-0 in Belarus earlier in the evening, England began the match need ing just a point but they went one better and produced a thoroughly convincing victory which went some way to erasing the memory of the 3-2 defeat to the same opposition in November 2007.
It was a game that England controlled from the offand two goals apiece for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and a Wayne Rooney strike ensured Fabio Capello could finally book the flights to South Africa. Arsenal forward, Eduardo, pulled a goal back for Croatia on 72 minutes, but by then it was too little, too late.
Capello made one change to the eleven that started against Solvenia on Saturday, with aaron Lennon replacing Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right wing and the Spurs man was instrumental in the two first half goals.
England's bid for World Cup qualification was aided by Croatia's Josip Simunic who clumsily tripped Lennon in the box after just six minutes. Lampard stepped up and emphatically fired the spot-kick into the back of the net. It was not too dissimilar to his penalty on Saturday.
The goal lifted the English crowd who had already sensed this evolving into a very special night.
England's right flank was carrying the greater menace in the opening period and on 12 minutes, Lennon was again found in space. His cut back was meant for Gerrard but the ball rolled instead to Gareth Barry who unleashed a thumping left foot drive which Vedran Runje did well to parry as Emile Heskey was partially blocking his view.
In total contrast to the last time Croatia visited Wembley, the visitors offered little in the way of an attacking threat and their first attempt at goal didn't materialise until the 17th minute, but Mario Mandzukic's shot was poor after England failed to clear a Darijo Srna cross.
Had Mandzukic been more clinical it could have changed the face of the game because less than a minute later, Croatia found themselves 2-0 down withthe proverbial mountain to climb.
The ball was once more worked out to Lennonand he stood up a delicious far post cross for Gerrard to guide into the opposite corner. England fans were starting to dream of a summer holiday in South Africa.
The hosts knew what was at stake and they appeared brighter, sharper and hungrier than their Croatian opponents, who themselves still harbour hopes of a play off spot, inspite of tonight's defeat.
Just before the half hour mark Frank Lampard almost made the scoreline even more impressive when he hit a thumping free kick from in excess of 30 yards. The ball was arrowing goalwards and would have given England a three goal advantage until Runje produced another fine stop, palming the ball away for a corner.
The Croatian defence appearded disorganised and held a poor line throughout the first half. On three occassions an England playerwas played onside when in search of a through ball. Firstly, a one-two with Rooney released Lennon, but his dink over the top failed to trouble Runje. Lennon then turned provider, feeding Heskey through the centre, but the Villa man's shot was saved by Runje's legs. The Croatian 'keeper would foil Heskey once more befoe the half was out when the forward was found by Lampard.
The visitors only other chance of note in the opening 45 was a shot from Eduardo which bent harmlessly wide.
They did, however, start the second half a lot better with Srna's quick corner kick on 50 minutes providing a moment of alarm in the unprepared England defence. Mandzukic stole between John Terry and Matthew Upson but lifted the ball just over.
Croatia knew they had to improve on their first half showing and began the second period with an energy that had been lacking in the first. When Mandzukic beat Ashley Cole to a 50-50 he chipped the ball into the box for Eduardo, but Glan Johnson rose above the Arsenal man and nodded the ball safely into Robert Green's arms.
It was a crucial intervention, as Lampard and Gerrard each completed their brace soon after, effectively sealing the victory, and a World Cup berth. On 59 minutes, Johnson galloped down the right, outfoxed Danijel Pranjic and stood up a pinpoint cross for Lampard to head home England's third. Gerrard nodded the fourth on 66 after being found by a delicate chip from Rooney.
Croatia were a beaten team, although Eduardo did give them a glimmer of hope with a tap in. Green did well to save from Olic and then Mandzukic following an Ivan Rakitic cross, but Eduardo was on hand to knock the rebound over the line.
This hope was all but extinguished just six minutes later when Runje fluffed a back pass from Ivica Krizanac and Rooney was left with the easiest of tasks to register England's fifth goal of the night.
In truth, England would have expected a far sterner test from Slaven Bilic's side who were very disappointing on the night. But that will not matter to anyone weaing a white shirt - England have qualified for the 2010 World Cup and that is all that matters.
1 Robert Green, 2 Glen Johnson, 3 Ashley Cole, 4 Steven Gerrard (15 James Milner, 81), 5 Matthew Upson, 6 John Terry (C), 7 Aaron Lennon (17 David Beckham, 81), 8 Frank Lampard, 9 Emilie Heskey (16 Jermain Defoe, 59), 10 Wayne Rooney, 11 Gareth Barry.
Substitutes not used
12 Ben Foster, 13 Wes Brown, 14 Wayne Bridge, 18 Peter Crouch
12 Vedran Runje, 3 Josip Simunic, 4 Ivica Krizinac, 6 Danijel Pranjic, 8 Niko Kranjcar, 9 Eduardo (17 Ivan Klasnic, 73), 11 Darijo Srna (C), 13 Nikola Pokrivac (7 Ivan Rakitic, 46), 15 Ognjen Vuk Ojevic, 16 Mario Mandzukic, 18 Ivica Olic (10 Mladen Petric, 46)
Substitutes not used
1 Danijel Dubasic, 2 Dino Drpic, 5 Hrvoje Cale, 14 Jerko Leko