After a nervy start England coasted to a 4-2 win over Croatia to reach the quarter finals of the competition.
Once again, England were thankful to the precocious talent of Wayne Rooney who scored twice and set up another to continue his remarkable form at Euro 2004. Further goals from Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard, ensured a comfortable win for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team.
England, who required just a draw to progress, fell behind in the sixth minute after Niko Kovac poked the ball home after David James had parried an Ashley Cole deflection.
Thereafter, England took control and should have levelled on 8 minutes when Rooney set up Scholes, but the midfielder who had gone three years without a goal saw his shot well saved by the keeper.
England remained patient in possession and deserved their equaliser on 38 minutes. Lampard put Owen through and although the Liverpool’s striker’s shot was blocked by Butina, but the rebound spun to Rooney who headed on for Scholes to end his 30-match goal drought.
With England in the ascendancy, it came as no surprise to see them take the lead. A swift counter-attack saw Owen find Scholes and the Manchester United player teed up Rooney who rifled in a shot from outside the area. The keeper got his hand to the ball but there was too much power in the shot.
From a position of strength Croatia were now forced to go on the attack if they were to retain any hope of reaching the next stage. Their need to press forward was to prove their undoing as England countered effectively on the break. Rooney played a one-two with Owen and from just inside the Croatian half the Everton striker advanced on goal before sending Butina the wrong way with a neat finish.
Shortly afterwards, with the game seemingly safe, Sven Goran Eriksson replaced Rooney with Darius Vassell and the youngster was awarded a huge standing ovation by the massive England contingent in the ground.
England’s defence, which looked hesitant from set-pieces throughout, was to pay the price for some slack defending on 73 minutes when Tudor headed unmarked to reduce the arrears to 3-2.
Lampard settled English nerves five minutes later, cutting inside on to his left foot, before directing his shot past the keeper.
It was a curious performance by England. In their two previous matches they looked defensively solid but timid going forward. Against Croatia, the reverse was true with the back four looking vulnerable on a number of occasions, while going forward, they demonstrated a hitherto unseen potency.
Moreover, in Wayne Rooney, they have unearthed a gem. It is difficult to remember player of his age make such an impact at a major tournament and one wonders whether it is fanciful to make the comparison with the 17-year-old Pele in 1958.
Croatia 2-4 England
– Croatia: Niko Kovac 5, Igor Tudor 73
– England: Paul Scholes 40, Wayne Rooney 45+1, 68, Frank Lampard 79
Croatia:12-Tomislav Butina; 13-Dario Simic (8-Darijo Srna 67), 21-Robert Kovac (19-Ivica Mornar 46), 6-Boris Zivkovic, 3-Josip Simunic; 20-Giovanni Rosso, 5-Igor Tudor, 10-Niko Kovac, 7-Milan Rapaic (18-Ivica Olic 55); 9-Dado Prso, 11-Tomislav Sokota
England: 1-David James; 2-Gary Neville, 5-John Terry, 6-Sol Campbell, 3-Ashley Cole; 7-David Beckham, 11-Frank Lampard (14-Phil Neville 84), 4-Steven Gerrard, 8-Paul Scholes (15-Ledley King 70); 9-Wayne Rooney (23-Darius Vassell 72), 10-Michael Owen
Referee: Referee: Pierluigi Collina (Italy)