The British press laid aside their sniping on Thursday as they hailed England's 4-1 win over Croatia, and crowned Theo Walcott the nation's new hero after the teenager's stunning hat-trick in Zagreb.

"England were a delight to behold, soon delivering the most expansive football seen since the thrashing of Germany in 2001. The David Beckham era is over, the Walcott era has begun," the Daily Telegraph enthused.

The Times described Arsenal attacker Walcott's hat-trick as the "most stunning international breakthrough since (Michael) Owen's brilliant solo goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup finals".

"Hero Theo leads rout by three lions", said The Sun, adding that the 19-year-old, whose goals were his first on the international stage, had proved his right to the No7 shirt usually worn by Beckham.

Praise was also heaped on manager Fabio Capello, as England sought to avenge the home-and-away defeats by the Croatians that had destroyed their chances of reaching UEFA EURO 2008.

"It felt like England had finally woken to the dawn of a bright new era and that in Capello, the FA had found someone who can indeed guide England out of the darkness and on to South Africa and the next World Cup," said the Daily Mail. "Capello had the courage to select Theo Walcott in a role so long occupied by David Beckham and my, how that gamble paid off."

The Guardian noted that joy at the success of the previously much-criticised England beat even the "achievement of wrecking Croatia's proud unbeaten record of 35 unbeaten qualifying matches at home".

"In his first fixture of genuine significance, Fabio Capello has awakened immense expectations. Perhaps he is also the man to meet them," it said.