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On this day: Theo Walcott nets England hat-trick

Seven years ago today, Theo Walcott became the youngster ever player to score a hat-trick for England.

When asked to rank the top three England hat-tricks of all time, the first and second spot are easy. Probably nothing will ever beat Sir Geoff Hurst's trio of goals against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final, while Michael Owen's treble against a unified German side in Munich 35 years later was a memorable one.

But, as far as the third best hat-trick is concerned, that is open for debate. The likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker, Jimmy Greaves and Alan Shearer could all lay claim to it, yet it's difficult to look beyond Theo Walcott, who found the net on three occasions seven years ago today.

Theo Walcott of England celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mates during the FIFA 2010 World Cup Qualifying Group Six match between Croatia and England at the Maksimir Stadium on September 10, 2008© Getty Images

On paper, a trip to Zagreb's Maksimir Stadium was a daunting one for Fabio Capello's Three Lions. After all, hosts Croatia had lost none of their 35 home qualifying encounters. The Croats were the sort of opposition, particularly at home, against whom even the most established nations would have considered a draw to be a good result.

Some had expected Capello to recall David Beckham in place of Walcott, but the Italian kept faith with the 19-year-old and he was rewarded with an explosive display from the Arsenal winger, who along with Wayne Rooney brought an end to Croatia's unbeaten home record.

The youngster broke the deadlock in the 26th minute, albeit in fortunate circumstances. Danijel Pranjic's attempted clearance cannoned into his teammate Robert Kovac and when the ball fell kindly for Walcott inside the area, he lashed a low effort beyond Stipe Pletikosa's reach to score his first ever senior international goal.

Things got even worse for Kovac and Croatia eight minutes after the restart when the defender caught England midfielder Joe Cole with a stray elbow. The incident left Cole bloodied and he was replaced by Jermaine Jenas soon after, while Kovac was handed his marching orders.

Just six minutes later Walcott had his second goal of the contest following a passing move that involved Frank Lampard, Emile Heskey and Rooney. It was the latter of that trio that played in Walcott, who produced a very similar finish to the one that had put England in front.

Two became three in the 63rd minute as the influential Rooney got in on the act. Substitute Jenas tricked his way to the byline and when he cut the ball back, Rooney opened up his body to send a composed side-footed effort into the bottom corner of Pletikosa's net.

Mario Mandzukic pulled one back for the home side 12 minutes from time, but the final say would go to Walcott in the 82nd minute. Rooney was again the creator as he slotted a pass through for the advancing attacker to slot a left-footed shot inside the far post. In doing so, Walcott had become the youngest ever player to have scored a hat-trick for England and the first since Owen in 2001.

Speaking after the final whistle, Capello said of Walcott's performance: "I decided to put Theo into the first XI because I saw the game against Andorra at the weekend and also how he was in training. At this moment he is fantastic psychologically and physically.

"He is young and so dangerous for defenders. He is one of the most important young players in England. At this moment, he is difficult to contain. When he plays like against Croatia, it is fantastic, but when he plays not so good, we have to support him. This is very important."

Meanwhile, the player himself added: "My first two goals were quite similar. I tend to cross the ball a lot but I thought I'd be a bit more greedy. Wayne Rooney gave me a brilliant pass for my third. I am grateful that Fabio Capello has given me the opportunity and I have to take that and keep on improving."

Croatia: Pletikosa; Simunic, R Kovac, Corluka, Pranjic; Rakitic, Petric (Knezevic), N Kovac (Pokrivac), Srna, Modric; Olic (Mandzukic)

England: James; Brown, Terry (Upson), Ferdinand, A Cole; Walcott (Beckham), Lampard, Barry, J Cole (Jenas); Rooney, Heskey

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Wayne Rooney of England celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier between San Marino and England at Stadio Olimpico on September 5, 2015
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