Wayne Rooney's part in England's pre-World Cup friendly against Egypt on Wednesday was thrown into doubt last night as Sir Alex Ferguson said the Carling Cup final matchwinner would need attention to a knee injury.
Ferguson would not go as far as to suggest Rooney might miss the England game – organised to prepare England for the threat of Algeria in the World Cup. "That's not what I said," Ferguson said. "Our doctors are assessing him at the moment." But Rooney, whose winning goal took his season's tally to 28, said he would ask the England team doctor Ian Beasley to examine his knee when Fabio Capello's squad meet up at the Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire today. Capello did, however, have some good news when Rio Ferdinand said that he has only missed the last two United games and the England match as a precaution after a twinge in his back and that he will be training at Carrington this week in readiness for Saturday's visit to Wolves.
Rooney, whose eighth headed goal in nine matches on 74 minutes gave Ferguson the satisfaction of having successfully defended a cup tournament for the first time, was affected enough by the sore knee to have been kept on the bench. "I wanted to play but I had a bit of a niggle this week and a sore knee," he declared last night. Rooney arrived as a 42nd-minute substitute when Michael Owen's injury curse continued, though Ferguson said he had considered removing the 24-year-old as the game wore on, with signs of the soreness recurring.
But the worries over both strikers did not limit the satisfaction for Ferguson of a 2-1 win which took the manager to his 34th trophy at United – 26 if Community Shields are not included.
Martin O'Neill was incensed by referee Phil Dowd's decision not to dismiss Nemanja Vidic for tugging Gabriel Agbonlahor's shirt and bringing him to the round in a counter-attacking move in the fourth minute of the match which gave Villa the penalty that James Milner converted.
"It was plain for all to see," O'Neill said. "It was an inexplicable decision. There was a goalscoring opportunity in the penalty area. It was a mistake from an otherwise very fine referee who's got it wrong. I've spoken to Phil [Dowd]. In two or three days it's all forgotten and we're losing finalists. But anybody would really be wondering how he could come to any other conclusion."
Villa defender Richard Dunne, whose error allowed Dimitar Berbatov to break for Michael Owen's 13th-minute equaliser, suggested that the course of the game might not have affected by Vidic's dismissal – since United managed to hold on for a draw with 10 men at Villa Park earlier this season. "Richard's a great lad and I totally disagree with him," O'Neill countered. "That's a different game. Just because someone plays with 10 men at one particular match ... you are talking about Wembley and all that goes with Wembley. I wouldn't have liked to play against us with 10 men."
The tragedy of the afternoon was Owen's, though. Starting his second match since 19 December, he scored his first goal with Capello present since he signed for United, only to pull up as he chased a Berbatov pass late in the first half. "It's unfortunate I got injured," Owen said. "It was great to be involved and score but that's partly soured by injury."
Ferdinand said of his back trouble: "I've been training this week. Obviously I haven't played any games to be fit enough to play for England. This latest problem has only been a minor setback. It's just been precautionary but I'm fine now, no pain, no problems."
Ferguson brushed away a question about green and gold protests at Wembley, in full view of two of Malcolm Glazer's sons, Brian and Avram. Balloons in the protest colours drifted around the pitch throughout the first half and at least half of the scarves waved were of the protest's colours. "I didn't pay a lot of attention," he said.