'It doesn't get much bigger than this': Wayne Rooney relishing World Cup qualifiers while targeting 100 England caps
The Manchester United striker insists playing for the national team is still a huge privilege that makes him proud
Wayne Rooney says that suggestions modern players are disillusioned with playing for England are wrong and that he is committed to reaching 100 caps, as Roy Hodgson’s side prepare for their two final World Cup qualifiers starting with Montenegro on Friday at Wembley.
Speaking to the television crews at St George's Park, Rooney painted a picture of an England squad that is changing rapidly with a new generation of young English player coming through to replace eventually, the old guard. "There is a lot of energy and a lot of excitement. It is great. I am in between the younger and older ones. I can dip in with both."
He said that rather than approach these two final qualifiers with trepidation, the challenge ahead had been a source of inspiration. "It is exciting times for us," he said. "Two massive games to try and take our country to the World Cup. It doesn't get much bigger than this."
England need to win both games against Montenegro and Poland on Tuesday to be sure of qualification, although a win and a draw will be enough if Poland beat Ukraine, second in group H, in Kharkiv on Friday. Rooney missed the previous two World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine last month with a gashed head.
However, the Manchester United striker said that despite suggestions from some quarters, including Harry Redknapp, that the modern footballer has fallen out of love with international football, he remained keen to play. With 84 caps and 36 goals - and not 28 until later this month - he still has time to break Peter Shilton's 125 England caps record as well as Bobby Charlton's all-time goalscoring record (49).
Rooney said: "I love playing for England. It is great when you look at the likes of Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard who all have 100 caps. I am 27. I am pushing 90 caps. We have a lot of players who have turned up every game for England.
"There are times when you have an injury and you can't but there are a lot of players some countries won't have. To still be playing at over 100 caps is a great achievement. Speaking for myself, I love meeting up with England and playing. It is a proud moment for me."
As for the two games, Rooney said that the squad was confident. "We believe we are going to qualify. If we don't we will have to deal with it. It is as simple as that. The players are all big enough. We know we should qualify. We will take whatever responsibility there is on that. But we are all really confident we will qualify.
"You can look at it either way. The players believe and now we have a full squad. In a few of the games one or two players have pulled out through injury - we have the quality to beat these two teams. You have to be confident and you have to stay positive and believe that."
With Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Jermain Defoe and Rickie Lambert all fit and available, Hodgson has a wide range of strikers to choose, relative to the Ukraine game in which his options were severely limited by suspension and injury. The likelihood is that he will play Rooney behind Sturridge with the Liverpool striker in the No 9 role.
Rooney said he would be keen to reprise his partnership with Sturridge which was cut short in the Republic of Ireland friendly in May by the Liverpool man's injury 30 minutes into the game. Rooney said: "He [Sturridge] has been in tremendous form for Liverpool this season. He has scored a lot of goals. It is great to see.
"He has been given a vote of confidence from the manager at Liverpool who has trusted him to play up front. He has delivered. He has scored goals. I am sure if we play together we will try and work together, try and link up and try and score goals between the two of us."
Rooney also said that he had no fears about the future of English football and that the game was now producing a different kind of player than it has done in the past. He said: "The game has changed. It is a different style of getting taught how to play. I always believed if there are players who are good enough, they will play: Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
"You look at what [Roberto] Martinez has done at Everton in terms of style of football, which they used to play compared to what they play now, there are a lot of English players have adapted to that. Why can't the younger players do that? I am sure they [the FA] will be looking at everything and coming up with the best decision."
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