World Cup semi-final: When Croatia humbled England in Euro 2008 qualifying | Football News

Steve McClaren’s England failed to reach Euro 2008 with defeat to Croatia

England face Croatia in a World Cup semi-final on Wednesday, just over 10 years on from another defining moment in English football history involving both sides.

In November 2007, England’s 3-2 defeat to Croatia at a rain-soaked Wembley meant Steve McClaren’s side failed to qualify for Euro 2008.

Here, we look back at that infamous night…

The build-up

After the disappointment of a 2006 World Cup quarter-final exit to Portugal, new England boss Steve McClaren was eager to refresh the squad for the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign – but his decision to drop the likes of David Beckham and Sol Campbell backfired as the team slumped to fourth spot in Group E at the midway point.

A frustrating draw at home to Macedonia was followed by a worrying loss away to Croatia (featuring a calamitous Gary Neville own goal, when a divot caused goalkeeper Paul Robinson to completely miss a pass back). Another goalless draw, this time away to Israel, put the pressure on.

Croatia scouting report

We look at the strengths and weaknesses of England’s World Cup semi-final opponents

With Beckham recalled, England got back on track and went to Russia in their penultimate game on the brink of qualification. When Wayne Rooney struck the opener, England just needed to hold on to book their spot at the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland.

Instead, future Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko scored twice in four minutes to seal a comeback win on an artificial surface at the Luzhniki Stadium – the venue for England’s clash with Croatia later this week.

It was a big blow – but England were handed a reprieve a month later when Russia surprisingly lost away to Israel to an injury-time goal. That meant all England had to do to qualify for Euro 2008 was avoid defeat at home to Slaven Bilic’s already-qualified Croatia…

The match

Scott Carson looks stunned after his early error

Scott Carson looks stunned after his early error

Heavy rain poured down at Wembley. Within minutes of the first whistle, the pitch, which had been damaged during an NFL game a few weeks earlier, was cutting up. England’s starting XI – which was missing John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen through injury, while Ashley Cole and Beckham sat on the bench – showed their nerves.

None more so than 22-year-old Scott Carson. Thrown in for his competitive debut in place of Robinson, the goalkeeper allowed Nico Kranjcar’s speculative, long-range strike to squirm through him and into the net. When Ivica Olic skipped past Carson to stroke in a second six minutes later, disaster had struck.

England were booed off at half-time. McClaren, who had been sheltering under an umbrella, sent on Beckham and Jermain Defoe in desperate search for a response.

Peter Crouch celebrates after pulling England level

Peter Crouch celebrates after pulling England level

Eleven minutes later, England had one back, when Frank Lampard scored from the spot after Defoe had been pulled back in the penalty area. By 65 minutes, England were level, when Beckham’s superb cross was chested down and volleyed home by Peter Crouch. Relief. For 11 minutes.

Mladen Petric put Croatia ahead again, with a left-foot strike from just outside the box and, despite sub Darren Bent clipping the bar, England could find no way back. The defeat, coupled with Russia’s 1-0 win over Andorra, ended their qualification hopes.

The aftermath

The FA acted swiftly: McClaren was sacked the next day, just 16 months after taking charge, the shortest tenure by any England manager until Sam Allardyce’s stint in 2016. “I believed I was up to the job when I took it and I still believe it now. But obviously, you are judged by results,” said McClaren.

“I said right at the start I would live and die by results and results haven’t gone my way. In that sense, we have failed. It’s the saddest day in my career.”

Sol Campbell shows the pain of England's Euro 2008 qualification failure

Sol Campbell shows the pain of England’s Euro 2008 qualification failure

Italian Fabio Capello was appointed as McClaren’s successor in December and made light work of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, winning nine out of 10 games.

As for Bilic’s talented Croatia side, they went on to win all three group games at Euro 2008 – including a 2-1 victory over eventual finalists Germany – but then lost a dramatic match in the quarter-finals to Turkey.

Croatia had scored what looked to be the winning goal with one minute of extra-time remaining, but Turkey levelled deep into stoppage time and went on to win on penalties.

What came next

After a painful summer, watching Euro 2008 from a distance, England didn’t have to wait long to exact revenge on Croatia. And they did it in style.

Theo Walcott's hat-trick helped England to a 4-1 revenge win in 2008

Theo Walcott’s hat-trick helped England to a 4-1 revenge win in 2008

In September 2008, Capello took his team to Zagreb and unleashed an inspired Theo Walcott. His hat-trick, along with a Rooney goal, secured a 4-1 win over a Croatia team reduced to 10 men early in the second half.

In the reverse fixture at Wembley one year on, England demolished their previous tormentors 5-1.

It was an emphatic response but didn’t erase the pain and memory of that 3-2 defeat. A win on Wednesday, though, would trump the lot…

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