Page last updated at 03:53 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 04:53 UK

Shock success has supporters smiling

By Chris Mason
Europe correspondent, BBC News, Zagreb

Shaun Baber with Jim and Simon Price
Topping the group, living the dream, that's what we want
Shaun Baber

"Unbelievable. Insane. Absolutely phenomenal. We never saw it coming. It's the best game I've ever been to."

Tom Biagioli's verdict sums up the mood among England fans here. They are exhilarated, gob smacked - and can't quite believe their side have walloped Croatia 4-1.

Before the game fans divided into two camps; optimists and pessimists. The optimists were all Croatian.

Mr Biagioli, 20, from Bristol, was at England's lacklustre game against the part-timers of Andorra at the weekend.

Like many others he felt if England performed like that again against Croatia, Fabio Capello's men would be easily beaten.

But the witless and lethargic England was never on display in Zagreb.

Instead there was energy, pace and ideas which resulted in an away win against a side ranked fifth in the world and one that has not lost a competitive game at home in over a decade.

At the final whistle the England fans were outnumbered but not out-sung.

Voices exhausted

Croatian fans in the usually hostile and intimidating Maksimir Stadium were silenced, as England supporters blasted out the national anthem.

And as they headed towards the bars near the ground, many England fans struggled to articulate what an improvement they'd seen.

Superlatives were exhausted and so were their voices.

A husky sounding Shaun Baber, from Amersham in Buckinghamshire, was at the game with Jim and Simon Price.

Mr Baber, 32, sporting a red England shirt with 'Shaunyboy' emblazoned across the back, was in the queue for a tram back to his hotel.

"We're losing our voices, because we've sung so much tonight.

Steph Toman and Becky Handley
It seems a long time since the Croats beat us at Wembley
Steph Toman

"Topping the group, living the dream, that's what we want. The last success we had was 1966. Come on, how long ago was that?"

For Simon Price, 36, also from Amersham, England's whole approach to the game was also refreshing.

"They put everything into it and that makes such a change. We've watched so much rubbish recently from them, but after that I'm lost for words."

Some drew parallels with England's 5-1 win over Germany in Munich in 2001.

Just as Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick for England here, Michael Owen did that night too.

'Game of a lifetime'

"I've just taken a picture of the scoreboard," Gary Syphas, 42, from Tipton in the West Midlands told me.

"It's just like that match against Germany. Unbelievable."

His 15-year-old son Jake described it as "the game of a lifetime for me".

Others, though, were not casting their minds that far back to put this match into context.

For many, it was about banishing the ghosts of the doomed qualifying campaign for Euro 2008 when England were twice beaten by Croatia.

"It seems a long time since that wet night last November when the Croats beat us at Wembley," said England regular Steph Toman, 29, from London.

"It feels like a lifetime ago now and this feels so sweet," chips in her friend, Becky Handley, 23.

At long last - and for time being - England's fans have their confidence back.

They will now hope the team does as well.




SEE ALSO
Capello hails courageous England
10 Sep 08 |  Internationals
'A bunch of overpaid muppets'
07 Sep 08 |  England
Andorra 0-2 England
06 Sep 08 |  Internationals
'We should score at least four'
05 Sep 08 |  England
England 2-3 Croatia
21 Nov 07 |  Internationals
Croatia 2-0 England
11 Oct 06 |  Internationals

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