Rooney tar­gets win­ning start

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — When Eng­land drew with Switzer­land at Wem­b­ley back in the first match of Euro 96, it was largely met with dis­ap­point­ment by the home fans — but not by the play­ers.

“In any tour­na­ment,” said then Eng­land mid­fielder Paul Ince, “it’s al­ways im­por­tant to get some­thing out of the first game. What you can’t do is lose it — then it be­comes very tough and you have to win the next two.”

But Eng­land’s cur­rent cap­tain Wayne Rooney has set his sights higher and urged his side to seize the mo­ment against Rus­sia on Satur­day in their Euro 2016 opener.

“The first game is mas­sive,” the Eng­land cap­tain said in the af­ter­math of the team’s dis­ap­point­ing 1-0 win over Por­tu­gal a fort­night ago. “It’s im­por­tant that we get off to a win­ning start. Ev­ery­one says you don’t want to lose the first game but the dif­fer­ence it can make if you win the first game is huge. It’s a big game for us now. We need to pre­pare well for that. The lads are buzzing and can’t wait for it.”

Rooney has to go back 10 years, to his sec­ond tour­na­ment, the World Cup in 2006, for the last time Eng­land won their opening match when they beat Paraguay 1-0.

That lit­tle shin-dig ended in Rooney see­ing red, Ron­aldo wink­ing and Ri­cardo Car­valho rolling around in faux-agony dur­ing the quar­ter-fi­nal. But Eng­land were a cou­ple of kicks from the semi-fi­nal so maybe Rooney’s the­ory stacks up.

Since then Eng­land have kicked off tour­na­ments in luke­warm fash­ion and have been un­able to come to the boil as events have un­folded.

In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Fabio Capello’s team drew their opener against the USA and never re­cov­ered, go­ing out to Ger­many in the first knock­out match. At Euro 2012, Eng­land drew with France and then lost to Italy in the first elim­i­na­tion game, and in Brazil two years ago, they lost their first tie to the Ital­ians again, never found a rhythm and failed to es­cape the group.

Beat­ing Rus­sia, then, may help cre­ate a mo­men­tum that Eng­land have not en­joyed for a decade.

“We haven’t shown how good we are with the teams we’ve had,” ad­mit­ted Rooney. “But that’s football, I’m afraid. We know we’ve got a good squad of play­ers now but we have to per­form.

“We can’t ex­pect to go there with a good squad of play­ers and think it’s all go­ing to be given to us. We know teams will try and stop us and make it dif­fi­cult.”

So English football is bet­ter than the re­cent record shows? “Of course,” said Rooney. “It’s 50 years this year since we won the World Cup and of course for English football that’s too long. Hope­fully in the near fu­ture that can change.”

It is Rooney’s first tour­na­ment as cap­tain and the squad clearly look up to him. He has been de­liv­er­ing im­promptu speeches — although he will not re­veal the “pri­vate” de­tail — and pass­ing on his ex­pe­ri­ences and he seems gen­uinely ex­cited about the team’s prospects and is en­joy­ing be­ing a se­nior pro. From the big man to the fa­ther fig­ure.

“This squad has def­i­nitely got the po­ten­tial to be the best one I’ve played in,” Rooney said. “The fu­ture for the Eng­land team is re­ally bright and it can get off to a spec­tac­u­lar start this sum­mer -but I cer­tainly think the fu­ture is bright.”

And do young­sters play with no fear? “Yeah,” said Rooney. “But it can also go the other way. We’re not putting too much pres­sure on the play­ers. And cer­tainly the younger lads. We know (be­ing young) can be a pos­i­tive or it can go the other way and play­ers can freeze so we need to make sure we’re all together and be­hind them, en­cour­ag­ing them, try­ing to let them ex­press them­selves.”

But does such a ten­der squad — Eng­land have the youngest in France — mean they won’t have the tour­na­ment smarts? Harry Kane, for ex­am­ple, seemed to do his best to not get Bruno Alves sent off in the match against Por­tu­gal.

Rooney takes the point but also thinks if Eng­land are re­ly­ing on that they are in the wrong ball park.

“If the ref­eree had played on we might have scored,” he said by way of ex­plain­ing the Tot­ten­ham striker bounc­ing to his feet hav­ing been kung-fu kicked in the head.

“In the past we’ve al­ways been an hon­est team and some­times it works and some­times it doesn’t. We could be more street­wise. It is more un­der­stand­ing the game and man­ag­ing the game bet­ter.

“That comes with ex­pe­ri­ence. Whether it’s stop­ping a quick free-kick? For­eign play­ers do it nat­u­rally -in terms of stay­ing on the ground a bit longer and al­most mak­ing a de­ci­sion for the ref­eree.

“We haven’t been brought up to do that so it’s a big change for us?”

So surely Eng­land are at a dis­ad­van­tage? “No,” Rooney said. “If we are re­ly­ing on that to win or go far in the tour­na­ment then, we’d be strug­gling.

“It can be a small mar­gin which can ben­e­fit you but the other things we’re do­ing and we’re plan­ning com­pletely out­weigh that.”

Start­ing with win­ning game one for a change. — The In­de­pen­dent

Wayne rooney and Harry Kane at the eng­land train­ing ses­sion.

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