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By ESPN Staff

England fires coach Steve McClaren

LONDON -- England fired coach Steve McClaren on Thursday, a day after failing to qualify for the 2008 European Championship by losing at home to Croatia.

Football Association chairman Geoff Thompson said McClaren's contract had been terminated with immediate effect, along with that of assistant Terry Venables.

Needing only a draw at Wembley to qualify for Euro 2008, England was beaten 3-2 by Croatia on Wednesday night. Croatia had already qualified, and the other spot from Group E went to Russia.

It was the first time since the 1994 World Cup that England had failed to qualify for a major championship and first since 1984 that the team will miss the Euros.

McClaren said after the game that he would not be quitting, but the 12-man FA board called an emergency board meeting Thursday morning to decide on his dismissal.

"Qualifying for a major tournament is probably the minimum requirement," FA chief executive Brian Barwick said at a news conference. "I think that Steve thinks that as well. Not qualifying for Euro 2008 comes up short."

Under McClaren, England won nine games, lost five and drew four. His 18-game tenure was the shortest of any full-time England coach.

"Of course we have no divine right to play in major tournaments, but it is quite right that qualification is expected," Thompson said.

"Of course we feel embarrassed," he added. "We expect as a major nation in Europe to qualify for European Championships and World Cups. We're extremely disappointed, like all fans."

The FA itself has come in for scathing criticism, and Barwick took the unusual step of apologizing to the fans for the humiliating failure.

"I care about this passionately," he said. "This hasn't ever been just a job to me. I'm in this job because I care about football and football fans and football teams. Last night was a tough night to take. We don't pass it over and move on. We understand that we have let them down and I apologize for that."

McClaren took over from Sven-Goran Eriksson after last year's World Cup. The former Middlesbrough manager had been the Swede's assistant coach for five years.

When McClaren was appointed, he appeared to be far from the first choice.

Before naming McClaren, the FA had spoken three times to Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Russia's Guus Hiddink was another leading candidate. Both men are taking their teams to Euro 2008.

Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, Hiddink, Scolari, Italy's World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi and Aston Villa's Martin O'Neill are among the names considered possible replacements.

Because England won't be playing at the Euro 2008 tournament and has nothing but friendlies until qualifying for the 2010 World Cup starts next season, there is no rush for the FA to appoint anyone.

"The recruitment process for the new coach begins now and we will do everything to get the right man for the job," Barwick said. "It will be done differently. We've got to learn lessons from the way we did it."

McClaren's team failed to qualify from what was not a particularly tough group.

England lost both its games to Croatia, surrendered a lead in Moscow and fell 2-1 to the Russians, and was held 0-0 at home by Macedonia and 0-0 away by Israel.

Against Croatia on Wednesday, McClaren dropped David Beckham to the substitutes' bench and started the inexperienced Scott Carson in goal instead of Paul Robinson, who wasn't even among the reserves.

After Croatia raced to a 2-0 lead in the first half, Beckham came on as a second-half substitute for his 99th appearance and provided a cross for Peter Crouch to score an equalizer for 2-2. That would have put England through, but Mladen Petric scored a late winner for the Croats to seal England's elimination.

Carson was badly at fault for Croatia's first goal, failing to get his hands behind a routine shot from Niko Kranjcar that bounced through his arms.