Wayne Rooney Relishes New Role as England Top San Marino in World Cup Qualifier
The five goals will impress, and the quest for qualification will steam toward Eastern Europe full of fresh confidence. But even considering the artistry of Danny Welbeck's cheeky flick, it was a workmanlike win that deserves no more or less the title of a job done.
That's appropriate enough. The buildup to England's 5-0 victory over tiny San Marino on Friday in UEFA Group H qualifying had threatened to bubble over with distractions, and a professional performance against a team made up almost entirely of part-timers was the obvious target for Roy Hodgson's youthful side.
England, and especially captain-for-the-day Wayne Rooney, delivered that. And despite the overmatched competition, it couldn't have been easy.
Defender and former captain John Terry quit international football late last month, shortly before the Football Association delivered a four-match suspension and £220,000 fine for racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand last year (per BBC Sport).
Defender Ashley Cole—and then Ryan Bertrand—was next in line for discipline after publicly branding the FA a naughty word (via Yorkshire Evening Post), and though Cole did earn a reprieve after apologizing, he also found himself on the bench against San Marino on Friday.
A new code of conduct followed (via The Guardian), though the FA claimed the timing of its release, so close to the controversies with Terry and Cole, was purely coincidental.
Regardless, all of that collectively called for professionalism within the England ranks, and for the most part, that is what Hodgson's players showed.
Not that it was pretty, apart from Welbeck's cheeky first-half backheel. Yes, he meant it, just like he meant it in Kiev this past summer. But no, the technical wizardry and artistry wasn't the standard fare for England on Friday.
It started ominously enough, with Theo Walcott heading off the pitch in a daze moments after a scary collision with San Marion keeper Aldo Simoncini. It continued for large stretches—apart from the five goals, of course—as San Marino deflected wave after wave of England pressure.
But if there was a bright spot—besides Welbeck's backheel and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's curling debut goal—it was Rooney's 73-minute performance.
Rooney, handed the captain's armband for only the second time, played the part capably, shunning the red-card shenanigans he showed just over a year ago in Montenegro. He also took responsibility with a couple goals, and in doing so calmed England's growing nerves both times, first from the penalty spot and later from open play.
It's no coincidence that both times Rooney scored, England—and specifically his club teammate Welbeck—followed with goals moments later. Rooney's importance and influence for his country are beyond doubt. In the captain's armband, as one of the side's most senior members, those qualities might count double.
Rooney earned the role only after the suspension of captain Steven Gerrard and an injury to vice-captain Frank Lampard, but before the match, he seemed to understand his role perfectly.
"I've matured more as a player and a person, and this is a great responsibility for me to take on," Rooney said (per Dominic Fifield of The Guardian).
It's a responsibility he seemed to revel in, and after scoring twice, he's now England's fifth-highest goal scorer of all time. In an otherwise unremarkable match, Rooney's international resurgence might be the takeaway we'll remember most.
Now, all that's needed is a repeat performance next week in Poland.
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