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Three strikes and Croatia are out

SCORER: Eniola Aluko was in inspired form for England Ladies

ENGLAND’S LIONESSES achieved automatic qualification to next summer’s European Championships with a 3-0 win over Croatia at Walsall’s Bescot stadium.

Hope Powell’s team needed a win to top the group ahead of the Netherlands, and avoid the play-offs for the tournament in Sweden.

It was a day of double celebrations as Rachel Yankey collected her 120th international cap, making her the most capped outfield player. Only legendary goalkeeper, Peter Shilton has played more games for England - 125.

England had beaten Croatia 6-0 in March, so it was no surprise when Jill Scott scored the opener in the 21st minute.

The home side had already had a handful of chances when Eniola Aluko’s shot was parried by goalkeeper Doris Bacic, only for Scott to tap it in just inside the post.

The crowd expected the floodgates to open, but 17-year-old Bacic was a revelation in goal and kept her team in the game for longer than they deserved.

The teenager saved from Karen Carney and Fara Williams as England looked to extend their lead.

As the first half continued, the visitor’s confidence increased and if it wasn’t for some wayward shooting they may have got back into the game.

The Lionesses doubled their lead two minutes into the second half when Yankey sent a low cross in from the left, that women of the match, Aluko, managed to scoop home with her right foot.

Then captain, Casey Stoney wrapped the game up ten minutes from the end with a low strike that Bacic could do nothing about.

After the game, manager Powell said: “We got the three points and that was the main thing. It is a relief as it means we don’t have to go through the dangers of the play-offs.”

The European Championships will be held in Sweden from July 10-26 2013.

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