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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 1 day ago
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By ESPN Staff
Nov 9, 2007

McClaren: Croatia still key

England manager Steve McClaren still believes that his team's Euro 2008 qualifying fate will be settled by their clash with Croatia. The match at Wembley on November 21 has the potential to be a dead rubber after England's loss in Russia last month put Guus Hiddink's team in pole position for second spot in Group E behind the Croatians. But McClaren insisted: 'We've got to be so positive. 'The disappointment is that it's out of our hands, that's the big regret. 'But we've got to hope that Israel can get a result against Russia. 'I thought all along the Croatia game at Wembley will be the decider and I still believe that.' England will be without first-choice centre-halves John Terry (injured) and Rio Ferdinand (suspended) for the match, which follows a friendly in Austria a week today. David Beckham is back though, and McClaren said: 'I checked on his injury, the injury is fine. He hasn't played many games but he's in the squad because with the likes of Rio and John Terry out we are lacking experience and big-game players - and David Beckham is one of them.' McClaren insisted he was not fearful for his position which will come under even more intense scrutiny should England fail to qualify for next summer's finals. 'I'm not even thinking about that,' he told Sky Sports News. 'The present campaign is not over. I believe the current team is making progress and I believe it will be up to us (against Croatia). 'What happens beyond that is out of my control.' He added: 'I've had fantastic support from everyone in the organisation (the Football Association) from the first day. 'Everyone has been fantastic behind the scenes, the support of the players. I can't control what goes on externally.' McClaren also denied that Beckham's return was due more to his approaching 100 caps - he currently has 97 - than form. 'David Beckham is an important player for England, always has been, and he will be again,' he said. Asked if the recall was down to sentiment, he added: 'Absolutely not. It wasn't sentiment when we brought him back in the summer.' McClaren defended England's recent form and insisted that, despite last month's crushing defeat in Moscow, they are heading in the right direction. 'Recent performances have been fantastic, they are playing as a team with great attitude and confidence,' he said. 'We are really making progress and the disappointment was probably the first six months (of qualifying). 'When I look at the Macedonia result (0-0 at home) that's two points we dropped and could have left the group in our hands. 'The Israel and Russia games at Wembley (in September) - that's how England should be playing. We weren't doing that at the beginning of the campaign. 'It's still not over. 'I believe these are the players who can achieve things in future.' McClaren also scoffed at suggestions that Isreal might not put everything into their clash with Russia a week tomorrow - where a win for the Russians would all but see England crash out. 'There's no way the Israel players will lie down - they're at home and a proud nation,' he said. 'The pressure is all on Russia.'