Saturday 3 December 2016

Wayne Rooney: 'It's a huge challenge to keep your place in the team'

Ian Herbert

Published 13/11/2015 | 02:30

England captain Wayne Rooney faces the media during an England press conference in Alicante yesterday
England captain Wayne Rooney faces the media during an England press conference in Alicante yesterday

England captain Wayne Rooney accepts that he faces a "huge challenge" to maintain his place in the team after manager Roy Hodgson excluded him for tonight's match against Spain to assess Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane against elite opposition.

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Rooney's indifferent domestic form has seen him score only five goals for Manchester United this season in contrast to Kane's six goals in his last four outings and Jamie Vardy finding the net in nine consecutive Premier League games.

Hodgson went to great lengths to assert that Rooney remained his "most important player" and that he will start against France at Wembley on Tuesday - behind Vardy if the Leicester City player has recovered from a groin strain.

With Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott also hoping to stake their claims for the Euro finals when they return from injury, Rooney knows that he faces greater scrutiny than ever about his form and fitness.

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney shakes hands with manager Louis van Gaal after he was substituted
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney shakes hands with manager Louis van Gaal after he was substituted

"It's the best group of strikers an England manager has had since I've been involved in the squad," Rooney offered.

"In previous years, we've gone into tournaments without that many match-winners in the squad. Now we've got quite a few.

"If the manager needs to have a look to see what James can do at international level, you have to understand that.

"It's a huge challenge to keep your place in the team and that's what I want to do. I want to prove myself. I feel, certainly since Roy has been in charge, my international form has been great. I have scored a lot of goals and I hope that will continue."

Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney

The England manager admitted he could eventually have a "tough decision" to make over which of his attacking players to omit for his 23-man squad for France - with the significant caveat that it assumes they will all be fit.

"It's such a very different situation to the World Cup when we didn't have that degree of people knocking on the door."

Hodgson will start Ross Barkley behind Kane and may pair Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in central defence ahead of vice-captain Gary Cahill and John Stones.

Michael Carrick is also expected to start and earn only his 34th cap in 14 years, with Hodgson having been frustrated by the number of times the midfielder has pulled out of his squads through injury. The 34-year-old has played just twice since October 2013 for England, starting only once.

"Michael has been very, very unlucky [with injuries]," Hodgson said. "Let's hope that those days are over and from now on when he comes in he will be able to play just like on this occasion."

The England manager said tough pre-finals friendlies would involve a counter-attacking brand of football, which they did not have to produce in the qualifiers.

"It is going to be attack-defence, attack-defence rather than attack-versus-defence, which it has been," he said.

"Counter-attacking football has not really been much of an option because the opponents have stayed so deep and had so many players in front of their goal. We think the type of players we have in the team are well suited to counter-attacking football. Barkley, of course, is one of those." © Independent News Service.

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