With 35 minutes to go at Wembley Stadium, arguably England’s most famous number 10 joined the fray for the final time. As the clock counted down on this match and his international career, the 68,000 people cheered his every touch and willed him to score one last time. Would he or wouldn’t he was the only question in town with England already cruising at 2-0, then 3-0.
It became the Wayne Rooney show, if it wasn’t already. Alas for the enthusiastic crowd, for Wayne, his family and his teammates, he just couldn’t quite manage it, despite really giving it his best shot and shots. Gaffer Gareth even pushed him up front in a central striking role for the final denouement, sensing the heightened atmosphere and anxiety gathering around the stadium. American keeper Brad Guzan clawed away his best effort, a low reverse shot with only two minutes to go and, bar one final despairing lunge at a Jadon Sancho cross, that was that.
He led the wave round ahead of his colleagues at the final whistle, did a final television interview pitchside as the stadium cleared and then left the arena for the final time.
There was nothing wrong with any of it. Indeed the whole situation was handled with grace and dignity by Rooney, Southgate and the FA and they all emerged with credit. Wayne showed some nice touches on the pitch and did himself justice. He let no one down and the youngsters all got a good chance despite speculation in advance to the contrary by the doubters, it was just a shame about the lack of that elusive goal.
Not every story has a happy ending but this was pretty good in the circumstances.
In other news, England were really quite good in an entertaining encounter. A largely reserve team selected by Southgate, and understandably so too in view of the now very important game against Croatia coming up on Sunday, moved the ball with pace and skill and scored two excellent goals in the opening half.
The first was a delicious right footed curling effort from Jesse Lingard from the edge of the penalty area and the second, within two minutes, a clean low strike across goal from the overlapping Trent Alexander-Arnold. He really could not have hit it any better and his all round performance fully merited his man of the match award.
Sancho and Lingard switched sides; Dele Alli roamed with intent; both full backs, Alexander-Arnold and Ben Chilwell got forward down the flanks and posed problems; Fabian Delph, skipper for the first 65 minutes, seemed to relish his holding midfielder role, giving others the freedom to play and all looked good for England. Add to that, Bournemouth debutant, Callum Wilson, provided added danger up front and it was perhaps fitting that it was he who scored England’s final goal after 77 minutes, a neat side footed finish to complete a run to the near post where he met Delph’s early cross on the volley. One man scores on his debut, another cannot score on his final appearance, the world moves on.
England’s fast paced football took a step back to something a little slower and more sedate when Southgate removed Lingard, Alli and Chilwell and replaced them with Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson and Rooney himself. Fortunately, Southgate quickly realised the sudden sterility of the situation and sent for Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek and all was well again. Loftus-Cheek is a joy to watch and, like Rashford, you never quite know what is coming next and, whatever it is, it is invariably worth watching and poses questions of opposing defences. Long may they, plus Sancho, Wilson and Alexander-Arnold feature in Southgate’s thoughts and squads.
What of the USA, England’s almost forgotten about opponents ? They came to try and spoil the party and whilst that was always going to be a tall order, they did have their moments, none better than midway through the first half when the dangerous and highly rated Christian Pulisic, somewhat fortuitously found himself through on goal after a mix up in the English central defence and he really could have done better, albeit still forcing a fine save from Jordan Pickford. They had another good spell at the beginning of the second half with some clever movement but the feeling was always that England had just too much for their spirited opponents.
So as Wayne Rooney drifted off into the night, his international career over for good, he can reflect upon a fitting tribute and an entertaining night at his old stomping ground. Thank you Wayne and farewell.
Now the meaningful football commences as Croatia come to town on Sunday for a winners takes all Nations League tie. The World Cup Semi Final on repeat and an opportunity for revenge, it could be quite an afternoon.