Wayne Rooney said yesterday that England’s strength in depth up front was the best he had ever known as the side prepared for two key World Cup qualifiers. Victory over Montenegro at home tomorrow and another win at home to Poland next week will assure England of a place at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. Anything less could see England in a play-off or, worse still, failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since the 1994 finals in US.
England haven’t beaten Montenegro in their three previous encounters and Rooney said it was down to the likes of experienced players such as himself and captain Steven Gerrard to keep the side calm and focused. “We will need the experienced players,” said Rooney. “Obviously there are more younger players in the squad than there has ever been. The experienced players have been there and done it. They can keep that calmness for us.
“It is a tense situation. There are a lot of nerves and sometimes you can hear that through the crowd as well. “It is going to be really important that our experienced players help us in those games.” During Rooney’s decade-long international career, England have only failed to reach a major tournament once, when Steve McClaren was unable to steer them to Euro 2008.
“For a country like ours, with the talent we have, it would be a failure not to qualify,” Rooney said when asked about the prospect of Roy Hodgson’s team failing to get to Brazil “As players, we will all take the responsibility if we don’t get there. But we are positive and excited about the games coming up. We have to be confident in ourselves. We believe in ourselves.”
However, England ca draw solace from the number of strikers at their disposal. Manchester United forward Rooney believes there are several players in the England squad who can help him share the burden. “It is great,” Rooney said. “It is probably the best group (of strikers) we have had since I have been in the (England) squad. Rickie Lambert is scoring goals for Southampton and has done really well for England. Jermain (Defoe) and I have been around a bit longer and Sturridge and (Danny) Welbeck bring a lot of energy. Overall, it is a really good blend.”
Rooney and Sturridge have only had half an hour together, against the Republic of Ireland in May, but the United hero is no doubt the younger man can transfer his club form to the international stage. “Daniel has been in tremendous form for Liverpool this season,” said Rooney. “He has scored a lot of goals. He has been given a vote of confidence by the manager at Liverpool who has trusted him to play up front. He has delivered.”