Wayne Rooney said Manchester United have match winners © Getty Images
Wayne Rooney said Manchester United have match winners © Getty Images

Chantilly (France): England captain Wayne Rooney says that he is more relaxed than at any previous major tournament because he no longer feels like the only match-winner in the squad. The Manchester United skipper will equal David Beckham’s record of 115 caps for an England outfield player when Roy Hodgson’s side tackle minnows Iceland in the Euro 2016 last 16 in Nice on Monday. With Rooney playing in midfield, the onus is now on strikers like Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge to score and, while England have struggled in front of goal, their captain believes that they have more players capable of deciding games than at any time in his 13-year international career.

“I have always gone into a tournament thinking if I don’t play at my best, I cannot see us winning it,” he confided to reporters at England’s Chantilly media centre on Thursday. “I have come into this tournament and we have players capable of doing magical things. We are different, but we have match-winners. We have five or six match-winners in our team and I cannot say we have always had that.” As England embark upon the knockout rounds in France, the spectre of penalties now looms and Rooney revealed that he is going to great lengths in training to ensure that he is ready in the event of a shootout.

“Whatever corner I am going for, I tell the goalkeeper, so that makes it harder for me,” he said. “If he can’t save it, despite knowing which way I am going, there are no worries for me in taking them.” Opposition goalkeepers can meddle with a penalty-taker’s focus, however, as Rooney discovered when he came up against Italy great Gianluigi Buffon in the quarter-finals at Euro 2012. “I always know which way I’m going and Buffon was actually pointing and telling me he knows I’m going that way,” Rooney recalled. “He was right, so then I started wondering if I should go the other way.”

– Roy right –

In the end, Rooney changed his mind about where to place his kick and Buffon went the wrong way. England, though, lost the shootout, as they have done in six of the seven major tournament matches they have contested that have gone to penalties. Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are among the players to have fluffed their lines from 12 yards, but Rooney said that the youthful current squad did not carry the same burden. “The good thing about this squad now is I don’t think there is one player who has been in a shootout and missed for England,” he said.

“So that won’t be hanging over any player.” England manager Roy Hodgson came in for criticism after making six changes against Slovakia, which included withdrawing Rooney from the starting XI, with British newspapers describing it as a gamble that backfired. But Rooney said: “I think the players that came in were good enough to win the game. We should have won the game. In terms of Roy’s decision to play me, rest me or not play me, he’s the manager, it’s his decision and I have to respect it.”

As a result of the 0-0 draw that followed in their final Group B game, England find themselves in the tougher half of the Euro 2016 draw — alongside heavyweights like Spain, Germany and hosts France. While Rooney was adamant that England harboured no regrets about not giving themselves an easier path to the competition’s latter stages, he admits that they must be less charitable against Iceland. “We have to be more ruthless,” he said. “If we get that goal early on against Iceland, they will have to come at us, which will suit us as well.”