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England make it six in a row with Croatia win
( 2003-08-21 09:29) (Agencies)

England stretched their winning run to six matches by beating Croatia 3-1 in an entertaining friendly at Portman Road on Wednesday to boost their preparations for the climax of their Euro 2004 qualifying.

Beckham celebrates his gaol with Rio Fedinand. [Reuters]
Goals by captain David Beckham, Michael Owen and a thumping Frank Lampard strike put paid to the spirited Croatians, who pulled a goal back through substitute Ivica Mornar.

The victory maintained the buoyant mood within the England camp ahead of their three remaining Euro 2004 qualifiers against Macedonia and Liechtenstein in September and Turkey in October.

But Sven-Goran Eriksson's team were often stretched by an accomplished Croatian side, especially in the first half.

Beckham, who interrupted pre-season training with his new club Real Madrid to take part, put England in front with a ninth-minute penalty after a needless handball Croatia defender Josip Simunic.

England's most famous export cracked the resulting penalty low into the corner of the net.

Croatia, though, produced all the best attacking moves of the opening half after that, mainly down the right flank as they exposed Steven Gerrard's lack of familiarity with England's troublesome left midfield position.

The nearest they came to scoring was after 37 minutes when Marijo Maric's fierce header was blocked on the line by David James, although England's keeper knew little about it.

David Beckham opened the goal with a penalty. [Reuters]
Straight away James moved from his line decisively to deny Ivica Olic with the dangerous Croatia striker about to pull the trigger.

Eriksson had already been forced to remove Nicky Butt from his midfield after a heavy challenge midway through the opening period.


Lampard replaced the Manchester United ball-winner at the base of England's diamond midfield formation and at the start of the second half Eriksson brought on Leeds United's young goalkeeper Paul Robinson for his third cap.

Croatia made three halftime changes and England took full advantage by doubling their lead within six minutes.

Gerrard laid the ball crisply to Beckham's feet on the right flank and the Real Madrid midfielder whipped over an instant cross that Owen, unmarked, headed expertly into the corner of the net. It was his 23rd England goal in 51 appearances.

The cushion of the second goal allowed Eriksson to make five more substitutions, with Beckham and Owen among those given a rest, their job well done.

Mornar pulled one back for Croatia after 77 minutes from close range but England produced the move of the match three minutes later to seal victory.

Kieron Dyer combined well with Wayne Bridge down the left before James Beattie laid the ball back for Lampard who drove it into the top corner from 20 metres.

The only potential downside for England were leg injuries to Butt and striker Emile Heskey, although neither looked badly hurt.

Eriksson, though, will be concerned to have both ready for the crunch Group Seven qualifiers away to Macedonia on September 6, at home to Liechtenstein on September 10 and, most testing of all, in Turkey on October 11.

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