|Niko Kranjcar, right, celebrates Croatia’s
opening goal after a Scott Carson howler [AFP]
A stunning strike from substitute Croatian striker Mladen Petric earned his side a dramatic 3-2 victory over England at Wembley to send the hosts crashing out of the race to qualify for Euro 2008.
After fighting back to 2-2 after trailing to a two goal deficit, England looked to have snuck into the tournament in Austria and Switzerland but the defeat followed by the 1-0 victory by Russia in Andorra sealed their fate.
Needing just a draw to secure their place, England were rocked after just eight minutes when Niko Kranjcar hit a long range shot which bamboozled new English goal keeper Scott Carson and ended up in the back of the net.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper seemed to have suffered from a chronic case of stage fright as he failed to deal with the speculator as he met it on the half volley.
The goal brought the game to life, but it only got worse for England on 13 minutes when Brazilian born striker Eduardo Da Silva twisted and turned on the backtracking English defence before Ivica Olic beat the offside trap to double the visitor’s advantage.
Croatia then enjoyed total dominance for the rest of the half and were unlucky not go in further ahead when Carson parried away an effort from captain Niko Kovac.
A twist in the script from Hollywood
Needing a need miracle after the break, England manager called on David Beckham and Jermain Defoe to replace Gareth Barry and Shaun Wright-Phillips as he hoped for a repeat of Beckham’s heroics from the last qualifying campaign.
The Hollywood based star’s arrival certainly lifted the tempo of his teammates, but it was a penalty from Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt ten minutes after the break which really handed England their lifeline.
|England goalkeeper Scott Carson: Nightmare
Frojdfeldt spotted an infringement from Croatian defender Josip Simunic on Defoe and Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard duly converted from the spot.
The rescue attempt looked complete when an inch perfect pass from David Beckham found striker Peter Crouch on 64 minutes and the lanky striker chested the ball down before smashing it home as the English fans again re thought their summer holidays.
But the Croatian side, despite already having their qualification sealed, were full of running and manager Slaven Bilic signaled his intentions to play positive football until the end as he brought on the fresh legs of Petric and Danijel Pranjic to continue the free running style.
The two combined minutes later as Pranjic inside ball found Petric in plenty of space and he blasted the ball home.
Even with his side back in front, Bilic continued to press for a further goal as Schalke striker Ivan Rakitic was introduced.
It was an attacking philosophy that paid dividends and England will now begin a long post-mortem which is likely to begin with the search for a new manager.