Surprise England debutant Andros Townsend was the story of the day after helping the Three Lions to an impressive 4-1 win over Montenegro on Friday, but one thing remains clear going forward: This squad will go as far as Wayne Rooney takes it.
The dynamic Englishman carried his fine EPL form into international play on Friday, displaying not only the world-class amalgam of scoring and distribution we've grown accustomed to, but also the leadership Roy Hodgson's side desperately needs.
Despite a shaky first half in which Rooney failed to capitalize on a prime opportunity, the 27-year-old, according to WhoScored.com's match rating, turned in the performance of the night.
You can argue whether it was Rooney or the galvanizing Townsend who truly deserved Man of the Match, but it doesn't really matter. Simply put, Rooney was spectacular.
In the 48th minute, he broke the scoreless deadlock with a calm, cool finish off the rebound and opened things up for the Three Lions:
He also fired off four shots (two on target), hit the woodwork once, completed 85 percent of his passes and would have had an assist if not for a Steven Gerrard misfire.
We know how lethal Rooney can be in his ability to finish. This stat, courtesy of BBC Sport's Twitter feed, suggests as much:
But when he takes over an architect role and starts distributing for others, England is difficult to defend.
Rooney did exactly that against Montenegro. He unselfishly laid off a pass for Gerrard when he was in alone on goal. He connected on a match-high five key passes (for reference, Mesut Ozil currently leads the EPL with four key passes per match). He deferred to Daniel Sturridge on the late PK.
With Rooney at the helm, four goals could have easily been five, six or seven with a more consistent final product.
As youngsters like Sturridge (24 years old), Townsend (22 and making his first start with England) and Danny Welbeck (22) become more important, Rooney's leadership and ability to transform into a maestro in the midfield becomes integral.
As such, his all-round performance against Montenegro should make for plenty of rightful optimism in England.
Qualifying for Brazil is quite simple at this point for Hodgson's boys: Beat Poland at Wembley and the Three Lions are through. Fail, and they are almost undoubtedly headed for a play-off, as Ukraine is currently one point back with 0-0-9 San Marino left to play.
With Rooney not only in fine form but creating opportunities for others, the former should be no sweat for England.
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