Captain Wayne Rooney has dismissed fears that England have landed in the wrong side of the Euro 2016 draw, insisting that Spain, Germany and France will be worried about facing the Three Lions.
Rooney also played down suggestions of a disagreement with manager Roy Hodgson over his omission from this week’s draw against Slovakia – a result which cost the team an easier route through the knockout stage – and declared himself fully fit for Monday’s last 16 match with Iceland.
Should England overcome the Scandinavian minnows in Nice, they could face France in the quarter-finals – followed by Germany, Italy or defending champions Spain in last four – yet Rooney believes their more feted rivals would have preferred to avoid them too, despite a lacklustre group stage that saw them finish below Wales.
“If you’re going to win the competition you have to beat good teams,” he said.
“Everyone’s saying we’re in a difficult half of the draw but there’s some very good teams in the other half as well. It’s not easy whoever you play against.
"We’re happy with the position we’re in and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve got an exciting group of players, and I’m sure everyone else in that side of the draw will have been looking at us rather than us looking at them.”
We must be more ruthless
Rooney did warn that England would need to relocate a ruthless streak if they are to beat Iceland and record a first win during the knockout stage of a major tournament for a decade.
“We do have to be a bit more ruthless,” he added. “We have to take a few more chances, because as you’ve seen in the last game if you don’t take it then it can cost you a result. Certainly going into the knockout stages we have to make sure that when we get those chances we take full advantage of them.”
No row with Hodgson
Rooney straight-batted questions about Hodgson’s controversial decision to rest him and five others for the Slovakia game, despite his influential midfield displays being a rare highlight of the group stage.
England’s all-time record scorer backed the manager, denied he was carrying an injury and said he expected the move to pay off if they went deeper into the tournament.
“It wasn’t just me, it was five other players, and it’s a decision we have to make in terms of keeping players fresh for the knockout stages and also believing in the squad of 23 players that we’ve got,” he added.
“I agree, I think the players that came in were good enough to win the game. In terms of me, I respect Roy’s decision, whether it’s to play me or rest me, he’s the manager and I respect it.”
Not ready to quit yet
The Manchester United star is set to equal David Beckham’s record haul for an England outfield player of 115 caps on Monday and, revitalised by his deeper role, is in no mood to call time on his international career.
“For me, this tournament is a new chapter, a new position, and I’m hoping it’s the start of a very good chapter for me in international football,” he said. “We’ll see. I’m enjoying it and I’ve no plans for that to change.”