Rooney confident of carrying England's dreams

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The Independent Online

Manchester United's boy with the thorn in his side is 20 years old on 24 October but of much more immediate importance is his return to England's attack against Poland tomorrow. The qualification is secure but Rooney was emphatic yesterday in his desire to see his nation finish top of Group Six and admitted that England "could be playing better" as they begin their preparation for the World Cup finals.

So much expected in one so young, and as the scope of the role that he plays in England's ambitions was put repeatedly to Rooney yesterday, the striker could do little more than grin at the status that has been conferred upon him. He was, however, deadly serious when it came to that very public dispute with Beckham during the defeat against Northern Ireland on 7 September, when he swore at the England captain on the pitch.

His trip to Madrid to watch Beckham play the weekend before last was, Rooney said, a simple case of meeting up with a team-mate and not a public peace pact. "David's my friend and I went to Madrid to see him and watch him play," Rooney said. "No [it was nothing to do with the dispute], you go on to a pitch and things happen. People have disagreements and that is it. It's forgotten before you leave the stadium. It was blown out of proportion."

A much more confident performer in public now than when he struggled through his appearance at Goodison Park to mark the signing of his first professional contract two and a half years ago, Rooney dealt with the question of his temperament with the acknowledgement that it must improve. His rage in Belfast followed the red card he received for sarcastically clapping the referee Kim Milton Nielsen in United's draw with Villarreal in the Champions' League.

"In the past my temperament has let me down, but I am a young lad and I want to learn from that," Rooney said. "I don't think there will be too many problems. Yes, teams will try to wind me up but I am an experienced player now and I want to prove that.

"We have some great players in the team and if they get too much time and space [because the opposition concentrate on Rooney] they will punish teams.

"I go into each game I play and I want to win the game. I'm 110 per cent committed, but sometimes in the past my temperament has let me down but I want to put that right and do better with it."

He acknowledged that Roy Keane was a "great pro", who had "been at the top level for 10 years", but when it was put to Rooney that he might have approached the United captain for advice on how to tame his temper, his answer was curt: "No, I'm a professional footballer and I think I can find it out on my own."

With his 27th cap tomorrow the last of his teenage years, Rooney already has four more than Pele had before his 20th birthday, six more than Norman Whiteside had at that stage and seven more than Diego Maradona earned before he was 20. A lot further down the list is Brazil's Ronaldinho who, on his 20th birthday, had 13 caps fewer for his country than Rooney.

The Brazilian, Rooney said, was "the best player in the world", describing him as "strong, quick, with good feet and he can score and make goals - that's all you can ask for". It is, most observers acknowledge, a lot to ask for and it is exactly the same requirement that England will make of their prodigy in Germany next summer when the defending champions are again expected to set the standard.

"Sometimes you watch Brazil and you think, 'How are we going to stop them?' because the forward players they have are frightening," Rooney said. "They are a great team and they have been like that over the last 20 to 30 years. If we can beat them, then hopefully we can try to win it.

"There's a lot of expectation for the whole team. There's pressure on all of us, but what I am saying is that we have a good squad, we have some of the best players in the world. If I don't play then there are players there who can still score goals for us."

With Peter Crouch returned to the substitutes' bench, Rooney will partner Michael Owen tomorrow, with Ledley King set to replace the injured Steven Gerrard and Shaun Wright-Phillips a natural fit for the suspended Beckham's right-wing role.

It will be the United striker, however, that England will expect to re-ignite the optimism for Germany and it is a burden which the man himself does not appear to be labouring under too heavily.

"I go and do my thing whether there is a camera there or not," Rooney said. "I try to stay as relaxed as I can and get myself right for games. Everything has gone quickly since I started playing football but I deal with that - and my main priority is to win trophies."

* England's fate in the World Cup draw on 9 December could ride on their results against Poland and Argentina on 12 November. In order to avoid the likes of Brazil, Spain and Argentina in the group stages, they must be ranked by Fifa in the top eight - they are currently joint seventh with France, and one place above the Netherlands.

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