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Where it went wrong for Walcott

Two games into the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup and Theo Walcott was the toast of England.

His stunning hat-trick inspired Fabio Capello's team to a 4-1 win over Croatia in Zagreb to banish the painful memories of the Wembley defeat to the same opposition the previous year, which had put an end to their hopes of making Euro 2008 and to Steve McClaren's ill-fated reign.

The result gave Italian Capello his finest moment in charge of the team at that stage.

But the Italian today dealt Walcott the biggest disappointment of his fledging career.

The shock decision to leave the Arsenal winger out of his 23-man squad for South Africa would have seemed unthinkable on the back of that performance against Croatia.

But the 21-year-old has arguably been living off that match ever since, Capello selecting him in the hope he could recreate that level of performance. The harsh reality is he has never even come close.

Walcott was given the chance to prove himself worthy of a place on the plane by starting the friendlies against Mexico and Japan, but on both occasions he looked a shadow of the player who had appeared unplayable in Zagreb.

His crossing was poor, his decision-making even worse.

Rarely if ever did he leave the full-back trailing in his wake as he raced for the by-line. Instead he headed down blind alleys, gave the ball away, perhaps inhibited England's attacking play.

After a friendly against Egypt in March, Chris Waddle claimed Walcott does not have "a football brain" and "doesn't understand the game".

A succession of injuries have not helped Walcott's cause, while he has also had the misfortune to be playing in a position in which England are as well-staffed as any. Aaron Lennon, James Milner, even Shaun Wright-Phillips have all looked better bets.

He has shown in flashes for Arsenal this season what an impact he can have, especially from the bench. His introduction in the Champions League at home to Barcelona, for example, changed the game in an instant.

For England of late, though, he could scarcely have looked more lacking in belief.