Thirst for revenge fuels England for crucial Croatia tie

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The Independent Football

Motivation will not be a problem for England against Croatia on Wednesday. In fact, Fabio Capello might have to administer the psychological equivalent of cold showers to dampen the English desire for revenge.

The sodden November night in 2007, when Croatia killed off England's chances of qualifying for Euro 2008 with a 3-2 victory at Wembley, still hurts. The raucous celebrations of the Croatian players, who had already qualified, was seen by some in the England camp as gloating. Terry Venables, who was then assistant to doomed manager Steve McClaren, described it last week as "dancing in our dejected boys' faces".

Were that not enough motivation for England, the Croatia coach Slaven Bilic's comments that the current side lack "Englishness" will surely spur the home side on. "They are a very different team [under Capello]," Bilic said. "They have some advantages but they are also missing something from their game. They are missing some Englishness, some of the things that have always made England teams difficult to defend against and play against.

"All I will say is that they are definitely missing something and we know what it is," he added. "But of course I am not going to tell you now what it is. It is our secret."

It is no secret, however, that England players are keyed up to face Croatia, despite having won 4-1 in Zagreb a year ago. That remarkable victory has been the highlight so far of Capello's 17-game reign, yet still it did not salve the pain of the Wembley humiliation 10 months earlier.

Gareth Barry started the game, but was withdrawn at half-time with England 2-0 down. For Manchester City's £12m midfielder it remains the bleakest moment in his football career. Barry said: "There's a lot of players in that dressing room who won't forget that night at Wembley and we're back here again. There'll be a few memories but it's a different manager and a different team and although it will be in the back of our minds we'll be confident.

"Everyone wants to put it to bed and get across the line. I'm sure we'll be firing on the night. It was the lowest point of my career being on the verge a major championships and then it's taken away from you. That's not a nice feeling. This is England we're talking about and we need to be part of the big tournaments.

"It was just a disastrous dull night. No-one thinks back about the conditions, it was all about the result. Hopefully we can put that right."

Steven Gerrard echoed Barry's sentiment, adding that the only way the score can be settled is with an England victory on Wednesday to secure World Cup qualification.

"There is unfinished business for all of us. It hurt," Gerrard said. "We still remember the feeling we felt afterwards in the dressing room. We remember the result and will use it to motivate ourselves on Wednesday. If you can't get motivated to beat a team to get to the World Cup then you've got a problem.

"That night was definitely my lowest moment in an England shirt. It has taken a long time to get over it. I am still not over it now. I don't think I will be over it until we get that qualification under our belts."

Jermain Defoe scored his fifth international goal from the bench in three games in the 2-1 victory over Slovenia on Saturday to stake a claim for a starting role in place of Emile Heskey, whose lack of goals is a major concern for Capello.

Heskey accepted his place is in jeopardy and paid tribute to his striking rival. "Jermain's done brilliantly," he said. "Every time he comes on to the pitch he scores a goal and that's brilliant to see. You cannot complain about his record and he is not complaining he is not playing either.

"We are in competition for one place but that keeps you on your toes because you know you have to do well. I like to play the main striker role and Jermain does too. We have other strikers there too, so it is all good."

Jermain Defoe's last six England goals have come when the Spurs striker has come off the bench. Prior to Saturday, a late strike against Kazakhstan last October preceded doubles against Andorra [June] and Netherlands [August].