By Rob Harris
The Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO — As so often with England, a setback on the pitch has provoked renewed scrutiny of Wayne Rooney’s contribution. Or lack of it.
For all the dynamism of England’s youngsters going forward in the 2-1 loss to Italy in their World Cup opener, Rooney’s lack of real influence on the game stood out in Manaus on Saturday.
Credit to the Manchester United striker for setting up England’s only goal, providing the cross for Daniel Sturridge to equalize, but three of his own shots all went off target.
Rooney was shunted out to the left wing initially in an unsuccessful attempt to allow Raheem Sterling to limit Andrea Pirlo’s impact, but cut a frustrated figure.
“Obviously we lost the game but I was involved in the game, could have scored, created the goal and felt I had an influence,” Rooney said.
But many in the game said Hodgson got it wrong, from Rooney’s former United teammate, Rio Ferdinand, to Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who both said Sunday that he should have been deployed as the center forward.
“There is always going to be one player with a big debate around, but I think it’s very harsh if people are going to criticize Rooney’s performance,” England coach Roy Hodgson said. “He certainly worked his socks off for us. It was particularly hot and humid.”
Although Rooney was outshone by younger, more exciting attacking players, Hodgson defended the player ahead of Thursday’s second Group D game against Uruguay.
“We want Wayne in the box and there’s no question we will get him in the box,” Hodgson said.
Would Hodgson dare to drop Rooney? Seeing a lineup without one of the Premier League’s best-paid players could galvanize Uruguay, but when it comes to tournaments the prodigy who set the 2004 European Championship alight has struggled to replicate that impact as an 18-year-old.
The 28-year-old Rooney might have scored 39 goals in 93 international appearances, but his ruthlessness in front of goal has been on the wane when representing the Three Lions. Rooney has netted just once in the last seven games, but bridled at suggestions he has a divine right to start.
“I’ve never felt that, I don’t know why you said that,” he told reporters. “Why would I feel my place in the team is guaranteed? I work hard to try and get in that team. I have never said my place is guaranteed. I don’t expect to play, I work hard. I want to play.”
England resumes full training on Monday before facing Uruguay, which had an unexpectedly poor start to the World Cup by losing 3-1 to Costa Rica. Although the defense might struggle to contain an attacking unit potentially featuring Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, England is looking to its own electrifying players going forward to revive its campaign.
“If we take away the (Italy) result and look at some of the performances, the exciting players we had out on the pitch, the future is looking good but we have still got to do well in the present,” England defender Phil Jagielka said. “If we had lost and not gone for it and scored goals or created chances, these next two games would have looked bleak.
“Once we recover and look forward there will be a lot of positive things, and hopefully the camp will be confident to put in some good performances.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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