Wayne Rooney will hope to put suspension and loss of form behind him on home soil at Old Trafford when England take on F.Y.R. Macedonia in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying Group E.
Out of form
The red card Rooney received in the FIFA World Cup quarter-final loss to Portugal ruled him out of England's opening two victories, 5-0 at home to Andorra and 1-0 in Skopje against Saturday's visitors to Manchester. He was also serving a domestic ban at the time due to a sending-off for Manchester United FC in a pre-season tournament in Amsterdam, and although he has returned to club action his last goal was against Fulham FC on 20 August as he has struggled for form.
However, in Rooney's last meeting with F.Y.R. Macedonia three years ago in UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying he became the youngest player to score for England in a 2-1 away win, and national coach Steve McClaren has made it clear that his support for such a gifted talent is unswerving, despite the sometimes volatile temperament that accompanies it. "Players have to be playing well and have to be in form but Wayne Rooney is a world-class player and can make the difference at any given moment," McClaren said. "He's in my team."
That team is being tweaked in all departments, with Jermain Defoe making way for Rooney, Scott Parker and Michael Carrick competing to stand in for injured Owen Hargreaves as a defensive midfielder, a vital role that gives Frank Lampard the freedom to move forward, and fit-again Gary Neville taking over from brother Phil at right-back. Steven Gerrard will remain on the right of midfield, with David Beckham still out of favour.
England have mixed memories of facing F.Y.R. Macedonia in UEFA EURO 2004™ qualification. Although, just as last month, they won the away fixture with the 17-year-old Rooney writing himself into England history, earlier on in the group the Macedonians had secured a surprise 2-2 draw, leading twice in the first half with Artim Šakiri scoring straight from a corner.
©Reuters 1998-2010. All rights reserved.