McClaren praises Israel for throwing England a lifeline | sports | Hindustan Times
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McClaren praises Israel for throwing England a lifeline

sports Updated: Nov 18, 2007 08:46 IST
Mitch Phillips
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Steve McClaren enjoyed one of his most successful days as England manager on Saturday despite spending most of it with his feet up watching TV in a hotel.

England began the day as outsiders to reach next year's European championship but ended it needing only a draw in their final game at home to Croatia on Wednesday to go through.

That unlikely scenario was brought about by Israel's late 2-1 home win over Russia, a result that also guaranteed Croatia a place in the finals in Austria and Switzerland.

Elyaniv Barda put Israel ahead in the 10th minute in Tel Aviv but Diniyar Bilyaletdinov levelled on the hour.

As the clock ticked down McClaren and the England players, watching in the team hotel near London as they prepared for Wednesday's game, must have been willing the final whistle to sound. They knew qualification was back in their hands and that they could go through by beating Croatia.

But, after Russia hit the post in the last minute, it got even better for England when Omer Golan broke clear and tucked in a shock winner to leave England needing only a point.

"What a night. Absolutely fantastic news for us all," McClaren told

"I would like to pay tribute to Israel for the professional way they went about their job. They showed what a proud nation they are and they deserve a lot of praise for their efforts."

Croatia, perhaps diverted by news of their qualification, later lost 2-0 in Macedonia.

That result means that England will top the group if they win 2-0 or by three clear goals if Croatia score.

It is a remarkable turnaround for McClaren and his team, who seemed down and out after losing 2-1 in Russia last month following an earlier defeat by Croatia and draws with Israel and Macedonia.

"I always believed it would come down to the Croatia match, thankfully it has," he said.

"I know we've made things difficult for ourselves by dropping points early on but we have played a lot better during the second half of the campaign and I've got every confidence the players will do the job at Wembley."

If they lose on Wednesday Russia would go through with Croatia assuming they beat Andorra in their final match.