Football Comment: Eagerness to be hero hurting Rooney’s game

 
Trevor Steven
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ENGLAND and Roy Hodgson deserve nothing but praise for their display against Italy on Saturday night. Despite losing, there was so much to cheer. It was pacy, some of the passing was excellent, players looked as comfortable in possession as they have for a long time. England recognised they were at a World Cup and raised their game.

Hodgson made the bold selection we hoped he might and Raheem Sterling, deployed in the No10 role, showed just how good he can be. He was exhilarating, and several times I remember muttering "what a player". Putting him in a central position means shunting Wayne Rooney out to the left but gives Sterling the freedom he needs to be most effective. He was electric.

Rooney on the left is a compromise, but when he had possession I thought he did very well. His cross for Daniel Sturridge to equalise was world class, and if he had found the bottom corner instead of the side-netting with a second-half shot then we'd all be raving about him.

When he's played out wide he does have an extra defensive responsibility and, though it's not his usual game, it's not unfair to expect him to track back. He didn't look too focused on that side of the game, I think because he is feeling under pressure to do something positive for the team. Talk of his place being under threat and his lack of World Cup goals seems to have permeated his psyche.

That and England's attacking ambition left full-back Leighton Baines exposed. Andrea Pirlo was allowed to play 20-yard passes into the channel in front of Baines, and Italy will hurt you like that. The lesson for England is that when they lose possession they need to temper the adventurous approach just a touch and get back. Against Italy they didn't quite get the balance right, but it shouldn't be too hard to fix.

Trevor Steven is a former England international who played at two World Cups and two European Championships.

He now works as a media commentator.

■ LOSING to Italy means that Thursday's game against Uruguay now takes on added significance, although I still don't think England necessarily need to win it. In fact it reminds me an awful lot of the position we were in at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Then, we lost our first group game and drew the second, but winning the third against Poland (when Gary Lineker scored a hat-trick) proved enough for us to finish in the top two and qualify for the knockout stage. If we assume - and hope - that Italy now finish top of Group D, a draw for England against Luis Suarez and friends in Sao Paulo should be sufficient to progress, provided that Roy Hodgson's men see off Costa Rica in the final round of games and Uruguay don't pull off a shock against Italy.