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Cole backs England to slay Croatia curse

8 September 2008 22:25

BARCELONA (AFP) - Joe Cole has warned his England team-mates not to underestimate Croatia for the second tournament in a row as they prepare for a World Cup qualifier in Zagreb on Wednesday.

Cole, who came off the bench to score twice against Andorra on Saturday, hopes his decisive intervention in England's opening qualifier will result in him being promoted to the starting line-up for a match that could really set the tone in the battle for top spot in group six.

England lost 2-0 in Zagreb two years ago in a Euro 2008 qualifying match and went on to miss out on a place in the finals as Croatia topped the group ahead of Russia.

But Chelsea midfielder Cole, who also scored as a substitute against the Czech Republic last month, believes England have learned from their mistakes.

He said: "The last time we went out there we underestimated them a little bit. Looking at their performances they are a top side with great players.

"You need to be solid, tough and compact when you play there -- you need everyone's experience on the pitch because it's going to be a hostile environment."

Cole, who would be happy to take a point from the fixture, believes defeat in Croatia set England's entire qualification campaign back last time when a goalkeeping howler from Paul Robinson added to the sense of doom and saw media criticism hit a peak.

"You need to get off to a good start, we really let ourselves down in Zagreb last time and also by drawing against Macedonia at home," he said. "Once a team gets the bit between their teeth like Croatia did then you're always playing catch-up and you've made life hard for yourself.

"If we can get the right result on Wednesday we can really push on. We will go there to win the game but if we were to draw it then you would still say at this point England are in the driving seat."

Cole is hopeful of forcing his way into the starting line-up after his recent performances as a substitute but knows second-guessing manager Fabio Capello is almost impossible, especially after he was singled out for criticism by the Italian for not listening to instructions on Saturday -- despite his two-goal display.

Cole added: "I think at the start of a new regime no one can be confident of automatically starting. It's good that everybody has to fight for their place and perform well in every game. I'm here to play for England. As for criticism from the manager that is what they are there for, that is what they do.

"The mood is good in this squad. We are moving forward every day. Today we are working on new things and things that we might want to do on Wednesday night. We are not taking our foot off the pedal. We need to keep working. I think the way the team is set up, we are getting stronger. There is more mental toughness in the team now.

"We'll need it because Croatia pass the ball so well. We need to make a good start, get in their faces and really play with passion and desire like England should do and not be naive.

"In the past England teams have thrown men forward and got caught on the counter attack a lot. We are working on that: being resolute, strong and hard to break down."

England are expected to have Rio Ferdinand back after he recovered from a neck injury to train on Monday.

Arsenal winger Theo Walcott played ahead of David Beckham against Andorra but Capello may bring the former captain back for a match in which his experience and ball retention could be useful.

Walcott however was keen to make his case for another start.

"I give England a different aspect to the game, getting in behind defenders," he said. "It was very difficult the other day because they (Andorra) were so deep. On Wednesday it will be a totally different game, more football involved, playing the counter-attack suits my game.

"It will be another big experience for me if I'm involved. I'm just training well, that's all I've got to do. David will do the same. The manager picks the team, you have to ask him. If I train well hopefully I'll be there."

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