Bidding starts here for Rooney, England's man of the moment

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The Independent Football

Amid the jubilation of 45,000 England fans watching the emphatic win over Croatia last night, one man could be seen talking almost constantly into his mobile phone. Paul Stretford, Wayne Rooney's agent, was doubtless in the midst of a bidding war as his teenage client banged in the goals.

Also in the VIP section at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon were Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich and his chief executive Peter Kenyon, poised to trump any offer for the Everton player named man of the match and compared by the England coach Sven Goran Eriksson to Pele.

A week ago, England fans trudged downcast and in near silence out of the same stadium after a last-minute defeat by France. The scene could hardly have been more different last night as around 45,000 jubilant supporters left in full voice after the 4-2 win.

Heading either for the bars of central Lisbon or for the coastal resorts from Estoril to Albufeira, most fans agreed that after another fine performance, Rooney was the best young player in the world.

The 18-year-old striker was man of the match for his two outstanding goals, making him the tournament's top scorer with four and further inflating his market value.

Josh Simms, 25, from Beckenham, south-east London, said: "Rooney seems to get better with every game. He scared the French and has scored in the next two games. If we keep him fit and he doesn't get booked too often he can help us go all the way."

With France beating Switzerland 3-1 to come top of Group B, England will return to the same stadium on Thursday for a quarter-final against Portugal. It brings together the tournament's two best supported teams and in the eyes of some England fans who have warmed to their hosts it would have been the dream final.

Thomas Simpson, 21, a student from Nottingham, said: "I feel like one of the luckiest men alive. I've just graduated and I'm here for the entire tournament with a ticket for England's quarter-final. I think England have got every chance of beating Portugal despite their home advantage. They have some great individuals but are not so hot as a team.''

Darren Hollinshead, 35, a member of the official England supporters' club from Crewe, Cheshire, said: "I've got a ticket for the final and was going to come back for that but now I'm wondering whether I should leave at all - this opportunity might not come up again."

The result came as a blow to the estimated 9,000 Croatian fans in the stadium who needed a win to progress. Marco Lukic, 34, who was born in Croatia but lives in Frankurt, said: "Football and sport in general is massive for our nation and just about everyone will have watched the game at home as well as the majority of the four and a half million Croats who live abroad. We always said that if our team makes it to the quarters we would stay and if they lose we go straight home."

England fans have turned out in greater numbers for the group stages than any other nation. The 45,000 at last night's game brought the total attendance by England fans at the first three games to 110,000 - or 10 per cent of the total tickets available at Euro 2004. This compares with around 10,000 fans per game in the World Cup in Japan and Korea and the highest attendance during Euro 2000 in the Netherlands of 20,000 against Germany.

About 3,500 seats were empty in the stadium last night. The Football Association said it had received the tickets from the Croatians but were unable to complete background checks in time to sell them.

In Albufeira there was a party atmosphere after the match on The Strip, the scene of clashes last week between England hooligans and riot police.