Roy Hodgson praises Wayne Rooney maturity in face of Slovenia's pre-match goading
Roy Hodgson praised Wayne Rooney's maturity and self-restraint last night after his captain shrugged off his past history with Bostjan Cesar as well as a forearm smash to the face to score England's winning goal.
Cesar has said before the match at Wembley in November that he might "squeeze" Rooney's hand a little during the pre-match handshakes after blaming the Manchester United striker for injuring his ankle while winning a penalty in a friendly between Slovenia and England in 2009.
"I don't understand the referee," Cesar said last year. "He gives England a penalty and me a yellow card, but Rooney makes a stupid, stupid foul and leaves me injured for five weeks. On the pitch I am very aggressive and I enjoy the fight in physical games, but I don't want to kill him."
That Cesar, the Slovenia captain, should then strike Rooney will inevitably lead to suspicions that it was an act of retaliation. Hodgson was delighted that Rooney simply reacted by scoring a goal that brings him within one of Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time record and which also sealed England's first full unbeaten season for 24 years.
"Wayne Rooney's performance says a lot of things about him as a man," said Hodgson. "Just before he took that chance he took a nasty blow from an elbow, which could have decked many a player and led to him losing his discipline. It didn't and he got up. We thought at the time it could have been a penalty.
"One or two chances had gone begging but when the ball fell to him he still stuck it away with aplomb. We can rely on that man. I'd have liked him to get a hat-trick today so all the talk of the record would be finished, but he has plenty of time."
Rooney's 48th international goal also now puts him level on the England list with Gary Lineker. The former Tottenham and Everton striker quickly thanked Rooney "for making young folk aware that I once played a bit and don't just flog crisps".
Lineker could also not resist drawing attention to Rooney's rather inferior record in the final of international tournaments. "He's still only 29 and he's a formidable talent and he has a fabulous goalscoring record - especially in qualifiers," he added.
Rooney himself was delighted by England's ongoing progress since the World Cup and also his partnership with Jack Wilshere, who scored the other two goals. "It's great to score the winner but it was a great team performance," said Rooney. "I have formed a good partnership with Jack and hopefully he stays injury free for us now. We have made a lot of progress since the World Cup."
Hodgson was especially pleased to see goals from England's midfield, with Wilshere having not scored in his previous 27 international appearances. "His whole performance was quality," said Hodgson. "We know we have quality technicians in midfield. Wilshere, [Jordan] Henderson and [Fabian] Delph, [James] Milner and [Adam] Lallana. They've all got goals in them. Now they have to prove it. We'll need their goals. We can't just rely on our front players. If we can keep Wilshere fit and he can get plenty of Premier League matches and international matches, at his young age, we think we've got a good player going forward."
Wilshere said: "They have been a long time coming. I probably wouldn't have had a shot for the second one if I hadn't already scored, but after I'd scored one I had more confidence. I need to score more goals. [Frank] Lampard, [Steven] Gerrard and [Paul] Scholes have done that for England."
Wilshere was then involved in a bizarre incident on the final whistle when he gave a Slovenian pitch invader his shirt, only for the stewards to take it back off the intruder. The Football Association confirmed that the shirt was ultimately returned to Wilshere.
One frustration for Hodgson was how England conceded their first goal, with Slovenia scoring on the counter-attack after Phil Jones had carelessly conceded possession with a throw-in. Asked what he thought of the throw-in, Hodgson said: "Not much. I said nothing to Phil Jones at half-time. I don't criticise players very often for technical errors. I don't often jump on the obvious. The player himself can see that. He was injured. He fell clearing a ball with Jack Wilshere."
Hodgson now wants his players to use this past year as a springboard for Euro 2016. "We like to think the team spirit is getting better," he said. "Having a complete season of 10 games with eight wins and two draws, that's not been done for over 20 years. The players deserve some credit for that. Now we have to keep building on it."