Rooney in no rush to net record
Team success comes first for England's talismanic skipper, writes Sean Ingle
Wayne Rooney believes England have made huge strides since the trauma of last summer's World Cup, with the captain urging his players to win in Slovenia today and go unbeaten in a season for the first time in 24 years.
England have not lost since succumbing to Luis Suarez's winner for Uruguay in Sao Paulo, with nine of their 10 games without defeat since then having come this season. Victory at the Stozice Stadium would maintain their perfect record in Group E and put them nine points clear of their hosts, something achieved with a relatively young side after the retirements of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole over the last year.
"We've made huge strides since the World Cup," said Rooney, who will lead what is expected to be a bold selection against Slovenia with the Manchester United forward likely to be flanked up front by the pace of Raheem Sterling and Andros Townsend. "Having lost Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard as well, for the lads to come into the squad and for us to go through the season up to now unbeaten - with seven victories and two draws - that's still a great achievement from the players.
"But we want to make sure we cement that now with a good performance here and hopefully come away with the three points. Then we can turn around and say we've had a fantastic year, a fantastic season with England, and will give us a good platform to kick on for the following season. It would be a great achievement because, in some of the games, we've played some great football and secured some very good results."
Hodgson is expected to recall Kieran Gibbs at left-back and add the steel of Fabian Delph to midfield after last Sunday's anaemic goalless draw in Dublin with Sterling - perhaps surprisingly - retaining his place in the side despite appearing to struggle for confidence at the Aviva Stadium. He was booed relentlessly by the Republic's support, a legacy of his desire to leave Liverpool this summer, though Hodgson claimed he was interested only in the player's "footballing ability, not his contract disputes".
The manager and captain insisted that the stalemate against the Republic, while disappointing, had at least provided much needed preparation for the competitive fixture against Slovenia, who are ranked 48th in the world, given the break between the end of the domestic calendar and the international window. Rooney has scored seven goals for his country this season but has not netted at all since a win over Aston Villa on April 4. The 29-year-old is two goals shy of Bobby Charlton's 49-goal England record.
"It's there, in my mind and I'm close to it, but the most important thing is the team's result," said Rooney. "I've still got a few years left playing for England in me, so I'm sure the record will happen at some stage, but it's not my biggest concern. When it happens, it happens. It crosses my mind now and again, but it's not something I sit up thinking about at night.
"Maybe, earlier in my career, going a few games without a goal would have worried me but I'm not concerned now. I can't deny it's there for me to do, but I'd take the three points from this game over scoring any goals against Slovenia. The team comes before I do. This is the last game of the season for all of us, an important match, and we have to be ready, physically and mentally. I believe we are. We understand the importance of the game and have trained very well. It's 90 minutes for us to try and get the points we want."
Slovenia v England, ITV, 5.00pm
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