A v Croatia 10.9.2008
4-1 and even Rooney scored 4-1 and even Rooney scored!
Well what a fantastic result. Croatia had never been beaten at home in a qualifier since they gained independence, so I don't think anyone was expecting that result!!
Fellow listee Steve Ferris came over Tuesday evening so we had a beer or two but taking it easy as the alarm was set for 3.15am! Another mate picked us up at 3.45am and we were at Gatwick for out 4.10am check in. We had booked up on the Thomas Cook day trip due to lack of holidays (saved a week for Belarus next month!).
We took off just after 6am and landed in Zagreb about 9am (they are 1 hour ahead of us). By the time we had got our coaches and walked into the city centre it was about 11am. The first laugh of the day was finding out one of mates had taken Euros with him, sadly for him Croatia still has its own currency the Kuna (about 8 to the pound)
Steve, Liz and I headed to the old part of Zagreb known as Upper Town or Gornji Grad). At the top of the hill we stopped for a quick refreshing pint of Karlovacko followed by a Ozujsko, two beers brewed in Zagreb! We bumped into Kev and Fiona and there 2 lads so they joined us for a beer. We then wandered through the old town and then around the Cathedral of St Stephen which was pretty impressive. We then passed through one of the local markets before settling down for some lunch. After that we headed back to the street
of a thousand bars that we had visited on England's last trip to Croatia 18 months ago. We met Kev and Tony our West Ham mates and settled down for some more cooling relaxing beers. It was very very hot and the beer was going down nicely. We moved on and went to see The Church of St Marks which has a rather impressive tiled roofed showing the coat of Arms of Croatia, Zagreb, Dalmatia and Slavonia. This old part of Zagreb reminds me of Tallinn and Bratislava, its well worth a visit. We then caught the Venicular train down the hill with superb views over Zagreb as it descended to near the main square. We headed to one of the bars full of locals, they were all packed and the England fans and Croatians all mixing in singing, drinking and having a great time. The official coaches had been given a 6pm departure from the drop off point which was a good 40 minute walk away, they were aiming for dropping at the ground for 6.30pm for a 9pm kick off! We opted out and made our own way to the ground. We stopped just before the ground after catching Tram 1 from the central square and found another bar, once again packed with everyone in the red and white squared Croatia shirts and plenty of singing.
We headed through the first ticket/police check about 7.15pm and went to the bar open for just England fans. Bumped into Phil Blackman and a few other Crowborough lads, so joined them for another beer. It was all much more relaxed outside the ground this time and we saw no hassle all day. We wandered in the ground about 8pm. The away end slowly filled up and the atmosphere was good as the home fans were also very noisy. The match, well its best we have played for quite a while,every player looked up for it and James looked confident in goal as we soaked up some early pressure. After about 25 minutes Cole broke down the middle and ball deflected to Walcott who drove the ball into the far corner with the keeper failing to get enough on the ball to keep it out the net! Woo hoo. With Cole and Walcott out wide we gave Croatia plenty to worry about. Heskey worked his socks off playing a loan striker role, with Roony sitting between him and the midfield. So 1 up at half time. The second half started with us
looking lively, after about an hour Cole was taken out with a nasty challenge and the Croatian was red carded. Almost immediately we made it 2-0. Heskey held up the ball well and knocked it to Rooney who played it wide to Walcott on the edge of the box and he once again drilled it into the far corner. We went mental and the home fans were at last silenced. Cole was off injured and had been replaced by Jenus who once again was prepared to run at the opposition. I think it was jenus who was set free by a good Ashley Cole tackle, his cross was superbly side footed in by Rooney for 3-0! This was dreamland! We then gifted them a goal after Terry went down under a poor tackle, but then again we responded. Rooney put a fantastic ball through to the on running Walcott who took the ball in his stride and at speed knocked the ball past the keeper for his hat trick and 4-1! It was party time, fair play to the Croatian fans who for the last 10 minutes or so really got behind there team, at Wembley we would have heard nothing but booing!
We were kept in for about 50 minutes after the final whistle, it took about an hour to get through traffic to the airport and we landed at Gatwick just before 3am this morning! Roll on the next trip - Belarus in October!