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.