There was no wally with a brolly, just a man with a plan at Wembley as England booked their ticket to the World Cup finals with a five-star performance.
Two years after Croatia triumphed in the Wembley rain to sweep England out of
Euro 2008 and Steve McClaren out of a job, Fabio Capello showed how it should be
Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard scored two goals each to exact their own
personal revenge for that horrible night, with Wayne Rooney adding another near
Capello was the master technician though as England completed an eighth
straight qualifying win to secure a trip to South Africa next summer with two
games to spare.
Capello preferred Aaron Lennon to Shaun Wright-Phillips and was rewarded with a
blistering man-of-the-match performance from the fleet-footed Tottenham star,
who created two goals, plus a chance for Emile Heskey and one he wasted himself.
And that was before half-time.
To say Lennon ran Croatia ragged in front of the world's fastest man would be a
Even Usain Bolt must have been impressed at Lennon's electric turn of pace. If
he had still been careering round Wembley in front of England's delirious fans
when his team-mates had disappeared for their break, it would have been no
He was certainly too fast for Josip Simunic as he sped into the box on a
fateful seventh minute charge. Simunic might have been complaining. Goodness
only knows why. A clearer penalty you could not wish to see.
Lampard kept his nerve and drove home from the spot.
Eleven minutes later, Lennon was at it again. Hugging the right touchline, then
delivering a perfect far-post cross for Gerrard, who headed it straight back
where it had come from, right into the far corner.
As things tend to happen in threes and Belarus had already done the Three Lions
a favour by holding Ukraine to a draw in Minsk, meaning only a point was
required to qualify, the action might have been over. Few would have
But, their lead coming from Lennon, England's offensive continued.
Smug and triumphant on his last visit, Slaven Bilic looked beaten and broken
this time around as he tried to work out how to stop the onslaught.
Gareth Barry and Lampard forced Vedran Runje into flying stops, Lennon attacked
the Croatia defence, then raced clear onto Rooney's return pass, only to fluff
Then Lennon sent Emile Heskey clear. The Aston Villa man had been preferred to
the free-scoring Jermain Defoe, his ability to bring others into play not in
Finding the net remains a problem. Heskey has only done it seven times for his
country. Runje prevented him making it eight.
In stoppage-time, Heskey latched on to a defence-splitting Lampard pass. This
time he got the ball stuck under his feet. Even this night of glory provided
Capello with a reminder of the flaws in his team.
Equally, the England coach could not have been too happy at the way his defence
completely fell asleep at Darijo Srna's corner after the restart, allowing Mario
Mandzukic a free shot at goal which he wasted.
Moments later, Glen Johnson got away with a penalty box foul on Eduardo. On
such moments can entire campaigns turn, as both McClaren and the watching
Sven-Goran Eriksson testify.
Under Capello, England know exactly where they are going.
Before Defoe could replace Heskey, they had scored again, Johnson providing the
cross for Lampard to steer into the corner.
Not that they were in the mood to ease off. For Lampard, Gerrard and Barry in
particular, as survivors from the last day of McClaren's reign, the pain will
never quite go away.
So it must have been very gratifying for Gerrard to see his header loop home
midway through the second half.
Eduardo tucked home a consolation for Croatia, who must now overhaul Ukraine in
the battle to be runners-up. England will play a part in the outcome as they
visit the Ukraine next month.
For the Three Lions, that trip to Dnipropetrovsk on October 10 now represents
the start of a six match build-up to the World Cup.
They can begin the journey with confidence, Rooney tapping home after a howler
from Runje to increase England's tally to nine in two matches against a Croatian
team they were not expected to finish above when the draw was made in January
England have found a plan since then. It looks pretty useful.