THE POST-2006 World Cup era kicked off with three Euro’2008 qualifying games and a host of friendly matches barely five weeks after the last penalty was tucked away in Berlin.

Steve McClaren was one of seven new European managers giving his debut, and Sven-Göran Eriksson’s successor had plenty to celebrate. ‘New England’ offered no place for former captain David Beckham, instead it was his heir John Terry who made his presence felt with his 14th minute opener against Greece.

In the biggest opening-game win for a new England coach since Walter Winterbottom’s 7-2 1946 debut against Northern Ireland, Frank Lampard then also shook off his World Cup blues by sliding home an Ashley Cole through ball for his country’s second. The first-half rout of the obliging reigning European champions was completed by a Peter Crouch brace that established the 4-0 final score line after only 42 minutes of play.

Owen Hargreaves continued his impressive international form, while the full introduction of Stuart Downing gave England the badly needed balance missing in Germany. The game was also notable for the second-half appearance of goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, his first appearance on the international stage earning his father a 10,000 pound payday with a bet placed in 1997 backing him for an England cap. On the down side, Dean Ashton did not make it onto the pitch at Old Trafford, following a serious ankle injury suffered in training.

The Republic of Ireland found themselves on the wrong end of an identical score line against Holland in Dublin. A Sir Bobby Robson health scare only compounded manager Steve Staunton’s night to forget, debutant Klaas Jan Huntelaar running riot with two strikes of his own and two assists for Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.

The mauling fell only one short of the 1931 record 5-0 defeat on Irish soil to Spain, and a lot of work will have to be done before next week’s clash with Germany in Stuttgart. Neighbours Northern Ireland enjoyed happier times in Helsinki, 18-year-old Kyle Lafferty stepping off the bench to score the winner in a 2-1 victory over Finland.

Elsewhere, Miroslav Klose scored twice to hand new Germany manager, Jogi Loew, a 3-0 win over toothless Sweden, Leo Beenhakker began his new post in Poland with a 2-0 defeat to Poland, and now Russia boss Guus Hiddink saw his team beat Latvia 1-0.

Javier Clemente celebrated a dream start in his first match in charge of Serbia, running out the 3-1 winner over the Czech Republic in Prague. The new man at the helm of world champions Italy, Roberto Donadoni, fielded none of the Germany stars against fellow debutant Slaven Biliæ of Croatia, and promptly saw his side lose 2-0 in front of 50,000 disappointed fans. Dunga’s new-look Brazil could only draw 1-1 with Norway.

Where the action took place in earnest, Portugal’s Euro’2008 Group A rivals Belgium could only manage a poor 0-0 draw at home with Kazakhstan, in Group B the Faroe Islands were thrashed 6-0 by Georgia, and Macedonia beat Group E opponents Estonia 1-0.