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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Wayne Rooney: 'I don't care about the record - I just want England to qualify'

England's Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring their third goal
England's Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring their third goal

Wayne Rooney thinks England proved many of their doubters wrong with their performance in Slovenia.

A week after playing out a dull goalless draw in the Republic of Ireland, England fans saw a much better performance from their team as they came from behind to beat Slovenia 3-2 in Ljubljana on Sunday evening.

Many rushed to predict a bleak future for England in the wake of the stalemate in Dublin.

ITV apologised for broadcasting the match and Rooney's former England and Manchester United team-mate Paul Scholes described the friendly as a "waste of space".

Rooney, therefore, was delighted to prove the naysayers wrong and record a valuable win.

"Last week the lads had a bit of a break and we knew it was going to be a difficult game (in Ireland) because we were focusing on Slovenia," the England captain said.

"That game happened - we didn't play well but we didn't get beaten. On Sunday night, we showed we are a good team.

"It will be a big performance for a lot of the players in the coming year. The players will certainly benefit from it."

Jack Wilshere broke his England duck in style, finding the net with two stunning goals to put England ahead after Milivoje Novakovic had opened the scoring on the break for the hosts.

Nejc Pecnik stunned the visitors with a late equaliser, but Rooney grabbed all three points for England with a calm finish in the 86th minute.

Rooney's goal ensured England maintained their 100 per cent qualifying record and moved the Manchester United captain to within one goal of Sir Bobby Charlton's national scoring record.

Ever the selfless skipper, Rooney insists his main focus when he joins up with England after the summer will be guaranteeing qualification for Euro 2016, rather than becoming the first man to break the 50-goal barrier for his country.

"I was delighted to get the winning goal, which is a big three points for us and a step closer to Sir Bobby's record," the 29-year-old said.

"I am sure that will come. But at the moment I am trying to concentrate on helping the team win games, get points and qualify for the European Championships."

As well as Rooney, Hodgson should take some praise for the way he has led England since their World Cup elimination.

On Sunday night Hodgson became the first man in 24 years to enjoy an unbeaten season as England manager.

"That is very pleasing," said Hodgson, who has won all six qualifiers since Brazil.

"It's nearly 25 years ago since it's been done so we are really proud to have equalled that, especially because these games have come in June and it's hard to concentrate and put your England hat on.

"We have a year to work on our play so that come next summer we are an even better team than we are today.

"We want to keep that unbeaten run going."

Given that England's next opponents are San Marino, that should not be a difficult task.

If England beat the punchbags of world football on September 5 and Slovenia drop points in Switzerland on the same night, Hodgson's men will qualify for France 2016 with three matches to go.

The FA has already started planning for the tournament by scouting potential bases.

And Hodgson admits England are as good as qualified.

"I think we are (nearly there)," Hodgson said.

"In our discussions we don't talk about the possibility of not qualifying, we always talk positively, that we are going to qualify.

"As long as we beat San Marino, that will give us 21 points and it means we will be at least nine points ahead of Slovenia.

"I don't know how many we will be ahead of Switzerland, but we will have a really, really good basis that I don't think, quite frankly, with a nine-point lead it would even be possible for them to come back at us."

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