REFILE-Soccer-Walcott saluted as new English wonderkid
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LONDON, Sept 11 (Reuters) - British media saluted Theo Walcott on Thursday after his hat-trick in England's 4-1 demolition of Croatia in a World Cup qualifier in Zagreb.
Walcott, who was thrust into the spotlight in 2006 when former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson surprisingly included him in the squad for the World Cup finals, finally delivered the goods on Wednesday with three clinical finishes.
The 19-year-old Arsenal striker has been a peripheral figure for his club since his shock inclusion in the World Cup squad but became the talk of a nation on Wednesday when he repaid manager Fabio Capello's faith to the full.
"Boy Wonder" was the Daily Mail's back page headline while The Sun proclaimed "Trio Walcott".
The Independent said Walcott had come of age two years later than scheduled and the teenager also received congratulations from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Many papers awarded him 10 out 10 in their player ratings while others compared his impact to that of a teenaged Michael Owen when he burst on the scene in the 1998 World Cup finals.
Walcott's performance also vindicated Capello's decision to start the forward in place of David Beckham on the right of midfield and also his surprise omission of Owen from the squad.
England's performance was their best since the 5-1 defeat of Germany in Munich in 2001 when Owen scored a hat-trick.
Beckham's days as an England international may well be numbered with Capello clearly opting for youth and pace in front of the former captain's pinpoint dead ball ability.
After a tame performance against Andorra in their Group Six opener on Saturday, The Times said "England's pussycats had showed hearts of lions" to inflict on Croatia a first competitive defeat on home soil.
England, it said, "were out of the gutter" after the the gloom of their demoralising failure to qualify for Euro 2008 after two defeats by Croatia.
England now sit top of Group Six with maximum points and firmly in control of their destiny in their bid to qualify for the South Africa finals.
With their next two games against Kazakhstan and Belarus optimism is suddenly restored and talk of a new golden era under Capello is rife.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Lovell)
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