Arsenal youngster Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick as England romped to a' 4 – 1 win away to Croatia in World Cup qualifying Group 6.
In a performance much improved from the plodding display against Andorra at the weekend, England not only made it 2 wins from 2, but also handed the hosts their first ever competitive defeat in Zagreb.
Walcott scored his first on 26 minutes after a defensive mix up and he could have added a second a minute later but his shot was saved by Stipe Pletikosa.
One up at the break, England were up against just 10 men 8 minutes in to the second half when Robert Kovac was dismissed for elbowing Joe Cole. Cole was stretchered off with blood pouring from a head wound.
England made their numerical advantage count 6 minutes later when Wayne Rooney, himself in great form, set up Walcott to smash in his second. Rooney added a third after a pass from Jermaine Jenas and a superb team goal finished off by the dominant Frank Lampard was cruelly disallowed by the officials who spotted a foul in the build up.
The home side pulled a goal back through Mandzukic but any thoughts of a nervous finish for the visitors were put to rest when Walcott, once again released by Rooney, cut through the defence to calmly slot home his third and England’s fourth.
After the win, coach Fabio Capello was delighted saying: “We played with confidence and without fear from the first minute,” he said.
“The players played like they do in training – technically well and with courage. This is the start.”
The Italian singled out Arsenal winger Walcott, who set England on their way with his first international goal – and later added another two to cap a superb individual display.
“He is young and so dangerous for defenders,” Capello added. “He is one of the most important young players in England.
“I hope he doesn’t get any injuries because he is so fast and so dangerous.”
Capello also said that having the team together for over a week helped them to develop a greater understanding.
“We stayed together for 10 days and I said that step by step we would get better.
“I’m not surprised by the performance because I know the players and I know what is possible. The score is incredible, but the performance of the team was very, very good.”
Other selected World Cup qualifying results
Andorra 1 v 3 Belarus
Finland 3 v 3 Germany
France 2 v 1 Serbia
Iceland 1 v 2 Scotland
Italy 2 v 0 Georgia
Montenegro 0 v 0 Republic of Ireland
Northern Ireland 0 v 0 Czech Republic
Portugal 2 v 3 Denmark
Russia 2 v 1 Wales
Spain 4 v 0 Armenia