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Saturday 3 December 2016

Southgate's faith in Roo

England boss says captain is not on the wane ahead of Scots visit

England captain Wayne Rooney in training ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland at Wembley
England captain Wayne Rooney in training ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland at Wembley

Gareth Southgate has no qualms about placing his faith in Wayne Rooney for a match that could yet decide his fate as England manager.

Interim boss Southgate took the bold decision to drop the country's record goalscorer for last month's draw in Slovenia but confirmed he would return to captain the side in tonight's clash with Scotland.

The match at Wembley is a notable one for many reasons, from its historical context as international football's oldest fixture to its importance on both sides' World Cup qualifying hopes.

But despite his best attempts to deflect the spotlight it could also be a defining moment for Southgate, whose short-term deal expires after next week's friendly with Spain.

As a calling card, a convincing defeat of England's neighbours and top spot in Group F would be a handy one for the 46-year-old to have at his disposal when discussions over the permanent post reopen.

Recalling Rooney was a decision made easier by the absence through injury of Dele Alli and, although the vacant number 10 role seems the most natural fit, he can be used in a deeper midfield role or as a centre forward.

Wherever he is deployed, Southgate has been happy simply to see the 31-year-old back in Manchester United's starting line-up in recent weeks and pressing his case.

"There was no hesitation from my point of view in playing him," said Southgate.

"He's in a better place than he was for the last get-together in terms of his sharpness, his confidence. I think experience in a game like this is important. With a team that has a lot of energy and potential you also need a lot of experience in there too.

"He's playing well. He's played well in his last couple of matches for Manchester United. He's a player who when he's in a rhythm of playing that helps."

Rooney's days as a first-choice central striker appear to be largely in the past and that job is one earmarked for Harry Kane, providing he is fully fit.

The Tottenham man made his return after seven weeks of ankle problems against Arsenal on Sunday but, after being monitored by medical staff at the start of the week, he appears to have a green light to face Scotland.

Southgate declared he had an entire squad to choose from, although the imminent birth of Theo Walcott's second child may prove a potential dilemma.

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