ZAGREB // England's hat-trick hero Theo Walcott emerged from Maksimir Stadium clutching the match ball after making history against Croatia - but he insists he won't be getting carried away. The 19-year-old's treble in England's 4-1 win meant a first defeat for Croatia in a competitive home game and it raised Fabio Capello's side's hopes of reaching the 2010 World Cup.
Walcott was braced for a hero's reception back home, but the teenager said: "I'm not going to get ahead of myself. I know what people will be saying, but I will just ignore it all." Wayne Rooney, who scored the other goal in Zagreb, led the tributes to Walcott, who was famously taken to the World Cup in 2006 but not used. "He offers something a bit different. He is probably the quickest player I have seen," Rooney said.
England went ahead after 26 minutes through Walcott's first senior goal for his country. Danijel Pranjic's clearance rebounded off Josip Simunic into the path of Walcott who drilled a fierce low shot across Stipe Pletikosa into the corner of the net. Croatia were reduced to 10 men after 53 minutes with the dismissal of Robert Kovac for an aerial challenge on Joe Cole who needed 10 stitches in his head.
England made their numerical advantage count with Walcott striking for the second time, overlapping down the right to pick his spot with a low spot. Rooney then ended his 11-month international scoring drough, scoring from Jermaine Jenas' low cross from the left flank. Frank Lampard had an effort ruled out for offside before Mario Mandzukic beat David James from close range with 12 minutes remaining.
But Walcott ended any hopes of a late Croatian revival as he raced onto a Rooney pass to slot home his hat-trick. Walcott, typically played down his own contribution. He added: "It wasn't just down to me, the whole team was brilliant and we showed to the fans and to all of England how strong we are." Croatia coach Slaven Bilic, reeling from the thrashing, said that Fabio Capello's side was now probably the best in Europe. Bilic said: "In the first half, we were looking good, but, we were brutally punished in the second. England showed they are a mighty team."
In Udine, the Italy hero Daniele De Rossi paid an emotional tribute to his late father-in-law after the Azzurri's 2-0 win over Georgia. De Rossi scored both goals in the Italians' second straight World Cup qualifying victory. Massimo Pisnoli, De Rossi's father-in-law, was murdered last month in Rome and the Roma midfielder said: "I dedicate this victory to my father-in-law: a man who we all loved.
"It's a difficult time for me but no-one can imagine what my wife and her sisters of 14 and 17 have gone through." The Italy coach Marcello Lippi had nothing but praise for the 25-year-old. "He is one of the best midfielders in the world," said Lippi. "He is at the level of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard." The France coach Raymond Domenech was spared from the axe after his side beat Serbia 2-1.
Domenech has been given a stay of execution after goals by Thierry Henry and substitute Nicolas Anelka at the start of the second half but he still remains public enemy number one. A three-quarters-full crowd at the Stade de France whistled in derision each time Domenech's face came up on the big screen, and they were also heard singing 'Domenech resign' in unison on a number of occasions. Miroslav Klose found his form again after a hat-trick in Germany's 3-3 draw with Finland. The 30-year-old only scored only seven times in 2007, but he delivered when it was required.
"We know what Miro is capable of and faith gets repaid in life," said the coach Joachim Low. Denmark ended Carlos Queiroz's unbeaten start as Portugal coach as they twice came from behind to win a thrilling game in stoppage time. It was 2-1 to Portugal going in to stoppage time but goals from Christian Poulsen and Daniel Jensen in the 90th and 92nd minutes turned the game on its head. * Agencies