Rooney back on song and full of ambition
The England captaincy on permanent basis and a 50th goal for his country are the long-term aims for a striker finding form
A game at home to San Marino, a team which has conceded 478 goals in their 115 international matches, is the sort of engagement that any striker should relish. Circumstances dictate how much long-term satisfaction it brings; David Platt will doubtless remember his four goals against them at Wembley in 1993 as a happier occasion than Ian Wright does his four in the doomed return game in Bologna later the same year. For now the Manchester United pair of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck can be grateful for the boost of two goals apiece at very different stages of their respective England careers as they move on to an altogether different assignment in Warsaw on Tuesday.
For Welbeck, the most important thing will be to keep his place in the side ahead of Jermain Defoe, one of four players left out on Friday because they were on a yellow card. Even bearing in mind the strictly limited level of the opposition he may have done enough against three central defenders to maintain the benefit of a club partnership.
Rooney will, of course, stay in the side. After an undistinguished contribution when finally free of suspension at the European Championship, he missed the first three games of the international season and has recently looked and sounded like someone not only raring to test himself against the best, but in better condition to do so.
Admitting to "a great feeling" at having overtaken names as revered as Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer in the list of England goalscorers, he said of the next test: "We have to move on from this victory and we know it will be a tough game. I think if we play with the enthusiasm, belief and determination we showed, then we will be fine. It will be tough but we will be going in there confident."
The unexpected bonus of Ukraine dropping two points against Moldova, who England had beaten 5-0, means that a draw against Poland on Tuesday would hardly be a bad result, something of which the dressing-room appears to be well aware. "Sometimes a draw can be the point that takes you through," Rooney said. "We know Poland are a good counter-attacking team and we will have to deal with that."
He will happily hand the captain's armband back to Steven Gerrard, but appears to have enjoyed the experience of leading the team and would like the chance again: "As a young player, your dream is to play for England and once you do actually play, the next step is to try and captain your country. I've done it, it's a great honour, a great feeling, and hopefully one day it can be full-time."
Celebrating a 27th birthday on Wednesday week, he has five years on Gerrard and seven on the other captaincy candidate Frank Lampard, which should mean further opportunities at a future date if he keeps himself fit. His other incentive is the possibility of becoming the first Englishman to reach 50 international goals. As our table shows, to do so at his present scoring rate, taking two- and-half games per goal, he would eventually have to match Peter Shilton's record haul of 125 caps. Given his history of injuries, a further 48 appearances looks a stiff challenge, and the best way to threaten Bobby Charlton's 49 goals would be to step up his scoring rate.
Roy Hodgson's main concern is his form and there was encouragement in that. "The good thing is now I'm seeing the best of Wayne Rooney," the manager said. "Maybe when he was playing for me in the earlier games, for various reasons perhaps he wasn't at his best. I've got to hope he stays at his best and he stays healthy and continues to do what he's doing for Manchester United. All the time I've been with him and during the Euros I don't think he was as sharp as he is now. Wayne would be the first to say that. But in terms of his commitment and desire, he's every bit the same man as he was then. I'm not naive and I do know what has happened in the past, but I prefer not to think too much about that and try to judge him on my experiences."
One penalty shoot-out aside (officially it goes down as a draw), Hodgson's England are unbeaten in 10 games, with seven wins. "It's been difficult because in the Euros we were up against top teams and we had our backs to the wall, but since then I think we have played some quite good attacking football," he said. "There are going to be lots of twists and turns ahead because we are not in an easy group and there are teams who can cause us more problems than San Marino." One of them awaits in two days' time.
England's greatest goalscorers
Wayne Rooney: How far can he go?
Age 27 (on Wednesday week)
Games per goal 2.5
The players to beat
Michael Owen (40 gls)
Youngest England player of the 20th century (later beaten by Rooney) when he burst into team in 1998, making his mark at the World Cup that summer. Last of his 89 caps came away to France in March 2008.
Jimmy Greaves (44)
Stunning ratio of 44 goals in 57 games, including a record six hat-tricks, between 1959 and 1968. Scored 13 in one season (1960-1). But missed 1966 World Cup final after suffering an injury in third group game.
Gary Lineker (48)
After making his debut against Scotland in 1984, Lineker was the leading scorer at the World Cup two years later in Mexico with six. Missed a penalty against Brazil that would have brought him level with Charlton, and finished on 80 caps in 1992.
Bobby Charlton (49)
Scored on his debut away to Scotland in 1958 two months after being involved in the Munich air disaster and added 48 more, including both goals in the 1966 World Cup semi-final against Portugal before retiring with 106 caps. At his current games-per-goals rate, Rooney would need another 48 games to reach 50 and break Charlton's record.
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