Bygones: Walcott inspires England on swift revenge mission over Croatia in Zagreb

MAGIC MAN: England's Theo Walcott celebrates scoring his hat-trick against Croatia in Zagreb in September 2008. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA
MAGIC MAN: England's Theo Walcott celebrates scoring his hat-trick against Croatia in Zagreb in September 2008. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA
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It was one of those results where you have to check it twice, just to make sure: Croatia 1 England 4.

This scoreline was registered exactly 10 years ago today and it can be looked back on as an important juncture in the modern history of the Three Lions.

Ten months prior, in November 2007, the two sides had met at Wembley for the now-infamous fixture that saw the hosts fail to qualify for the European Championships.

The match, which England lost 3-2, saw the visitors go through at the expense of Steve McClaren’s team. McClaren was later nicknamed the ‘Wally with the Brolly’ by one national tabloid for his defeatist demeanour in the soggy conditions that evening.

Fast forward to the next encounter between the two nations and England arrived in Zagreb with revenge on their minds.

The match was a qualifier for the 2010 World Cup and McClaren’s successor Fabio Capello, appointed a month or so after the Wembley debacle, showed he meant business by dropping talisman David Beckham from his starting line-up in the Maksimir Stadium.

Theo Walcott, just 19 at the time, was Beckham’s replacement and he stole the show that night with a remarkably well-taken hat-trick.

He remains England’s youngest treble scorer.

In only his second international start, Walcott opened the scoring against Slaven Bilic’s side on 26 minutes with a rasping shot from inside the box.

His second strike just after the restart was almost a carbon copy of his opener and it put Capello’s troops firmly in control.

England's Theo Walcott is congratulated by his team-mates Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Wayne Rooney. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA

England's Theo Walcott is congratulated by his team-mates Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Wayne Rooney. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA

Wayne Rooney added a third just minutes later before the hosts reduced the arrears through Mario Mandzukic late on.

There was still time for Walcott to complete his hat-trick and he duly did so with eight minutes left.

Rooney provided a superb assist allowing Walcott plenty of time to roll the ball beyond the Croatian goalkeeper.

For Walcott, who was selected for England’s squad for the World Cup in 2006 but did not make a single outing, that night in Zagreb remains the pinnacle of his international career.

For Walcott, who was selected for England’s squad for the World Cup in 2006 but didn’t make a single outing, that night in Zagreb remains the pinnacle of his international career.

Indeed, only two Englishmen have notched trebles for their country since Walcott’s achievement.

Jermain Defoe hit three in a Euro qualifier against Bulgaria in 2010 while this summer saw captain Harry Kane score a treble of his own in England’s 6-1 World Cup group stage demolition of Panama.

Still only 29, Walcott has time to add to his 47 caps, but it seems highly unlikely given his last outing for his country came back in 2016.

As for England and Croatia, they are set to renew hostilities next month. The Croats, of course, ended England’s hopes of a first World Cup final since 1966 with an extra-time 2-1 win in Russia.

The two nations will meet in Rijeka on October 12 as part of the new UEFA Nations League.