Fabio Capello said last night that he could not defend Wayne Rooney for the "silly mistake" of a dismissal which means that he will miss one, and quite possibly two, of England's group games in next summer's European Championship finals.
Rooney's red card for a needless kick at Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic in last night's 2-2 draw makes him the second player, after David Beckham, to be dismissed twice for England and a Uefa disciplinary panel will rule on whether the statutory one-game ban for violent conduct – imposed under Article 21 of Uefa regulations – will be extended. Rooney's kick out at Dzudovic's shin looked as bad as Andrei Arshavin's hack at an Andorran player which earned him a two-game ban at the start of Russia's 2008 European Championship finals campaign.
Though Rooney's actions soured a night on which England secured the one point required to qualify, Capello's criticism of him was restrained. "It's a red card. You can't defend that. I'm not happy, absolutely," he said. "I spoke with him. He made a silly mistake and he said: 'Yes, sorry.' More than that, I can't do.' He's a really important player with a lot of experience, and he's played really important games. But he's made a silly mistake. I've seen players like him do that. You can't understand why."
The Montenegro manager, Branko Brnovic, whose side's 90th-minute equaliser compounded England's gloom and secured the jubilant nation a play-off place, said after the game that he believed the arrest of Rooney's father, Wayne Snr, on suspicion of involvement in a betting scam had rendered the player psychologically unfit to play last night. "I read in the newspapers that Rooney has some family problems in England. To be honest I didn't expect him to play because those things are serious and it's not easy to concentrate on the game," Brnovic said. "They're serious and maybe that's why he did what he did."
Capello dismissed this. "Look. It was not [my] mistake," he said. "He made a silly mistake when he kicked the opponent. And he will now not be able to play the first game in the Euros as he will be suspended. He was not happy because he missed some control and some passes. For this reason, I think he reacted. His reaction was to kick the opponent."
In fact Rooney's 73rd-minute dismissal was part of a familiar pattern which has a disturbing habit of revealing itself during the biggest occasions. Last night, as in Gelsenkirchen when Rooney was dismissed for a kick of Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final, it was a case of the 25-year-old become increasingly frustrated when consigned to a lone striking role.
Though Rooney said in the past that Capello is an individual he fears, the Italian effectively admitted last night that he could not affect the player's future conduct. "Guys, I can't enter into the head of Wayne Rooney when he plays," he said. "I can speak before. I can substitute him. I can find different solutions. But the reaction of the players, you cannot understand during the game, why things happen. Not just Rooney."
Amid the Montengrin euphoria, England's qualification as Group G winners was almost forgotten, though even the footballing side of the night raised doubts as defensive concentration lapses allowed the a nation of a mere 650,000 population to score in the dying seconds of both halves. England were 2-0 up and controlling on 31 minutes, through Ashley Young and Darren Bent goals but also conceded on the stroke of half time to Elsad Zverotic. Andrija Delibasic rose unchallenged to head home Dzudovic's cross to prompt scenes of unbridled jubilation at an historic play-off place, thanks to Wales' 2-0 win over Switzerland in Cardiff.
"I'm really happy," Capello insisted. "I said that to the players after the game because our goal was to qualify. We are first in the table. This is the most important thing. All the players are important. We will find a solution to play without [Rooney]." England captain John Terry said of Rooney: "He had a little bit of a tussle and it's one of those things. Fortunately we're through and it didn't cost us so we're happy.".