A Captain’s performance

Wayne Rooney made his 100th appearance for England in yesterday’s Euro 2016 qualifying match against Slovenia. Only eight players have played more matches for England.

Rooney should surpass Steve Gerrard (115 appearances) as England’s most “capped” outfield player. And, as Rooney is still only 29 years old, Goalkeeper Peter Shilton’s record of 125 appearances is also in jeopardy.

Rooney wore the captain’s arm band yesterday, as he has since Gerrard retired from international football. Putting in a true captain’s performance, he led England to a 3-1 victory — one that puts England in terrific shape to quality for Euro 2016.

England dominated possession in the first half, but rarely looked dangerous. The half ended 0-0.

Then, early in the second half, Jordan Henderson headed in an own goal to put Slovenia up 1-0.

Immediately thereafter, Rooney took matters into his own hands. Bursting forward with a run worthy of Lionel Messi, he beat several defenders before being fouled in the penalty area. Rooney then powered home his penalty kick to tie the score.

With the ice broken, England took command of the match. Danny Welbeck scored twice in a 3-1 victory.

Manager Roy Hodgson also deserves credit for win. His half-time tactical change made England far more threatening in attack.

During the first half, England played two in central midfield (Jack Wilshere and Henderson) with Adam Lallana and Rahim Sterling tending to play wide. Rooney and Welbeck were the forwards, but one of them — often Welbeck — would drift into central midfield to give England the necessary numbers there.

The effect was to take Welbeck — the closest thing to a natural goal scorer England had on the day — too far away from goal. Meanwhile, Rooney — England’s most creative player — wasn’t seeing enough of the ball.

In the second half, Lallana played more of a central midfield role. Sterling too popped up more in the middle. Width was maintained by pushing the two fullbacks — Clyne and Gibbs — even further forward.

This enabled Rooney to operate as a playmaker closer to goal. And it enabled Welbeck more consistently to receive the ball in scoring positions, or so it seemed to me. Welbeck responded with the two goals that won the match.

England still look a long way from threatening a deep run at the Euros. Rooney was the England player on the pitch yesterday whom I would rate as unquestionably world class (though I would also put central defender Gary Cahill in that category). Slovenia and Switzerland are one thing; Germany and Spain are another.

But with Theo Walcott and Daniel Sturridge on their way back from injury, and Sterling (age 19) and Wilshere (age 22) progressing, there is reason for hope — provided that Rooney stays healthy and continues to thrive in the captain’s role.


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