Flag mars Kieron's England joy

ENGLAND 3 CROATIA 1IT was a once familiar sight, Kieron Dyer running to the North Stand to celebrate a goal. On this occasion he was wearing three lions on his shirt as he leapt for joy and punched the air.

By Derek Davis


IT was a once familiar sight, Kieron Dyer running to the North Stand to celebrate a goal. On this occasion he was wearing three lions on his shirt as he leapt for joy and punched the air.

Unfortunately his return to Portman Road as a full England international was slightly tinged with regret as the 'goal' was ruled out for offside.

Other than that is was a great night. England won, in the end fairly comfortably, but had to survive a difficult first half.

David James was named man of the match, to the puzzlement of many, but his saves had kept England in the game during the first 45 minutes.

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The popular choice would have been David Beckham, who scored from the spot and crossed for Michael Owen's goal.

Ivica Mornar accepted the weakness in defence to give Croatia a deserved goal 10 minutes from time but Frank Lampard wrapped things up for England.

Dyer appeared on the hour and showed some deft touches on the right side with the large number of Ipswich supporters in the North Stand chanting his name. His moment of glory, well almost, came at the death when he beat the keeper in a one-on-one and off he went.

The Newcastle United midfielder was one of 10 substitutes but it did not matter and he played his part in a win that sets England up for their Euro 2004 qualifiers against Macedonia and Liechtenstein next month.

England looked a lot better attacking than when forced to defend.

The crafty Croats presented a 3-4-3 formation with Portsmouth new boy Boris Zivkovic pushed into midfield to help out-number England.

They are also technically very adept and England found it difficult to contain them at times, especially down the left side where Eriksson tried out Steven Gerrard in that troublesome position. It didn't really work, so substitute Frank Lampard went on the left but stayed tucked in. Ashley Cole also struggled at left-back, especially when Ivica Olic went at him, which he often did.

But goals either side of the break gave England the victory before the substitute parade began.

Heskey poked the ball out wide right to Beckham, whose deep angled cross was aimed for Owen. It looked a little high and might have gone out for a goal-kick but Croat defender Josip Simunic inexplicably raised his arm and pushed the ball away with his hand.

The Real Madrid midfielder hit a powerful low drive to the keeper's right, and although he dived the correct way he was beaten with 10 minutes gone.

The England captain then crafted the second with a pinpoint cross from the right wing for Owen to meet eight yards out and plant his header low past the keeper's right.

Substitute keeper Paul Robinson saved Marko Babic's initial shot but Mornar knocked in from 10 yards to give Croatia respectability.

Dyer and Joe Cole then combined to set up Lampard who beat the keeper from 25 yards. The trio almost repeated the trick but this time the Chelsea midfielder went wide.

England survived a penalty appeal in the first half when the ball hit John Terry's arm from a Maric header, but the Danish referee ruled it was accidental. They then escaped what could have been an equaliser when Rapiac, completely unmarked 14 yards out but he headed high and wide from an Olic cross.

Kovac then thumped a header over the bar from a corner and James saved from a Maric downward header.

The West Ham keeper also got behind a long-range Kovac drive.

Maric was allowed plenty of time to win header after header and met a Rapaic free-kick with power but not accuracy.

Eriksson's men did not show much themselves by way for the first half until the last couple of minutes. Beckham found Owen with an exquisite 50-yard cross-field ball but he could not beat his man.

The Liverpool striker did show a neat touch, flicking into his club and country team-mate's path but Heskey's powerful drive was parried over the bar.

It was a job done but Eriksson will know they will have to be as effective in front of goal to go through.

England: David James (Paul Robinson, 46), Phil Neville, Ashley Cole (Wayne Bridge, 59), Steven Gerrard (Danny Murphy, 81), Rio Ferdinand (Matthew Upson, 59), John Terry, David Beckham (Kieron Dyer, 59), Paul Scholes (Joe Cole, 59), Emile Heskey (James Beattie, 75), Michael Owen (Trevor Sinclair, 59), Nicky Butt (Frank Lampard, 27).

Croatia: Stipe Pletikosa (Tomislav Butina, 73), Dario Simic (Marko Babic, 46), Josip Simunic, Stjepan Tomas, Robert Kovac, Boris Zivkovic (Anthony Seric, 73), Milan Rapaic (Darijo Srna, 46), Jerko Leko (Dovani Rosso, 59), Marjo Maric (Ivica Mornar, 46), Niko Kovac (Jasmin Agic, 73), Ivica Olic.

Referee: Claus Bo Larsen (Denmark).

Attendance: 28,700