Croatia had never lost an international game at home prior to yesterday’s qualifier against England. The last time England had come to Maksimir Stadium, they were trounced 2-0 due to Steve McClaren’s tinkering with a new formation.
Fabio Capello decided to employ a standard 4-4-2 against Croatia yesterday and the only thing he tinkered with was the lineup as he inserted Arsenal midfielder Theo Walcott in place of David Beckham on the wing. Capello’s decision to bench Becks for the faster, more dangerous Walcott paid huge dividends as Walcott proceeded to score his first three international goals in a 4-1 drubbing of Croatia.
In addition to the stellar play of Walcott, Wayne Rooney awoke from his goal scoring slumber to notch one for England. It was his first international goal in almost an entire year. Rooney also actively assisted on a couple of the other goals. England fans should feel hopeful as it appears Rooney has finally shaken off the injury bug and will regain his once promising form.
But Walcott was the star of this affair and his play cemented his status as a starter going forward for Capello’s bunch. The Croatians had no answer for his ridiculously fast pace and had to resort to ugly fouls and physical play to try and slow the England offensive juggernaut. It didn’t work though as every time Croatia would focus on holding England’s strikers in place, they would simply play the ball out to the wide open Walcott.
The result was somewhat marred by Croatian fans racist monkey chants, which they rained down on English striker Emile Heskey every time he touched the ball. Heskey seemed unperturbed by the abuse and remarked after the game that several of his Croation opponents had apologized to him for their fan’s behavior.
I’m glad the Croatian players made it clear to Heskey that they didn’t approve of their fan’s discriminatory actions. Now, the Croatian soccer federation needs to get involved and bar the members of the supporters section that was ignorantly chanting from future international matches. If they don’t, I think FIFA should sanction the Croatians for their failure to take action to eradicate racism amongst their fans.
For now though, Croatia is likely more focused on figuring out how to stop Walcott next time they meet.