England went into this evening's fixture at the Maksimir Stadium in Croatia with history and the formbook stacked against them. Prior to the game, the Balkan nation had never lost a FIFA World Cup or UEFA EURO qualifying game on home soil and the last meeting between the two sides ended in embarrassment for the Three Lions.
A little under two years ago, an Eduardo header and a freak own goal from Gary Neville had given Slaven Bilic's side a 2-0 victory as England stumbled on the road to Austria and Switzerland. A fatal 3-2 defeat at Wembley last November did little to help confidence and when the two sides were drawn together at the Preliminary Draw in Durban just four days after that match, it seems that the fates were laughing heartily at England's expense.
Yet tonight the record books were re-written. For the first time as a player and a manager, Bilic tasted defeat against England. For the first time in 31 games, Croatia lost at home, conceding four in the process. And for the first time, Theo Walcott scored an international goal.
More, more, more
The Arsenal forward did not stop at one, however. No, he added a second and third in the second half, making him the youngest player ever to score a hat-trick for England and he believes that a newly-found selfish streak helped him grab the goals that led to the 4-1 success. All this in just his second start for his country.
"The first two were quite similar," he smiled. "I tend to cross the ball quite a lot, so I decided to be a bit greedier this time. I was fortunate to be supplied for each of the goals by Wayne Rooney, who was absolutely brilliant tonight.
"You always have to take your chances. .
Prior to the match, the 19-year-old was selected ahead of David Beckham on the right flank and he justified Fabio Capello's decision by scoring in the 26th, 59th and 81st minutes.
Although it will be Walcott's name who hits the headlines in the English media tomorrow morning, the talented teen was eager to point out that it was a team effort. "There were 11 stars out there tonight - everyone played well," he continued. "We showed to everybody that we are a strong team.
"It shows how together we are, we've been together for ten days and we became stronger as a unit for it. We played some excellent football tonight, scoring some great goals. On our day we can beat anyone. But we're not going to get carried away by this - we just have to keep this up."
The architect of Walcott's three goals, Wayne Rooney, was full of praise for his teenage team-mate after the game. Rooney enjoyed his finest England performance for some time, linking up well with Walcott and Emile Heskey to cause the Croatian defence plenty of problems.
The pair were in the England squad for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ when Walcott was selected by Sven-Goran Eriksson despite not playing in the Premier League for Arsenal. Walcott didn't make a single appearance in Germany, but Rooney believes that the experience has stood him in good stead.
"Theo was great," he said. "He gives us something different. He's probably the quickest player I've seen and although he's shown glimpses of what he can do, he's taken his goals extremely well tonight.
"He can be brilliant. Sven [Goran-Eriksson] saw his talent and was brave enough to select him for the 2006 World Cup. The past two years have been a bit of a rollercoaster for him and I hope he can win a place in the Arsenal team.
"I'm just delighted for the fans. They came out in numbers in both of our games and we're delighted to give them a performance like this, particularly as Croatia denied us a place in the EUROs. It was a bit of revenge."