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England captain Wayne Rooney keen to see England get off to the best possible start against Russia



When England drew with Switzerland at Wembley back in the first match of Euro 96, it was largely met with disappointment by the home fans – but not by the players. “In any tournament,” said Paul Ince, “it’s always important to get something out of the first game. What you can’t do is lose it – then it becomes very tough and you have to win the next two.” But Wayne Rooney has set his sights higher and has urged his side to seize the moment against Russia on Saturday in their Euro 2016 opener.

“The first game is massive,” the England captain said in the aftermath of Thursday night’s disappointing 1-0 win over Portugal. “It’s important that we get off to a winning start. Everyone says you don’t want to lose the first game but the difference it can make if you win the first game is huge. It’s a big game for us now. We need to prepare well for that. The lads are buzzing and can’t wait for it.”

Rooney has to go back 10 years, to his second tournament, the World Cup in 2006, for the last time England won their opening match when they beat Paraguay 1-0. That little shin-dig ended in Rooney seeing red, Ronaldo winking and Ricardo Carvalho rolling around in faux-agony during the quarter-final. But England were a couple of kicks from the semi-final so maybe Rooney’s theory stacks up.

Since then England have kicked off tournaments in lukewarm fashion and have been unable to come to the boil as events have unfolded: In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Fabio Capello’s team drew their opener against the USA and never recovered, going out to Germany in the first knockout match; At Euro 2012, England drew with France and then lost to Italy in the first elimination game; In Brazil two years ago, they lost their first tie to the Italians again, never found a rhythm and failed to escape the group.

Beating Russia, then, may help create a momentum that England have not enjoyed for a decade. “We haven’t shown how good we are with the teams we’ve had,” admitted Rooney. “But that’s football, I’m afraid. We know we’ve got a good squad of players now but we have to perform. We can’t expect to go there with a good squad of players and think it’s all going to be given to us. We know teams will try and stop us and make it difficult.”

So English football is better than the recent record shows? “Of course,” said Rooney. “It’s 50 years this year since we won the World Cup and of course for English football that’s too long. Hopefully in the near future that can change.”

It is Rooney’s first tournament as captain and the squad clearly look up to him. He has been delivering impromptu speeches – although he will not reveal the “private” detail – and passing on his experiences and he seems genuinely excited about the team’s prospects and is enjoying being a senior pro. From the big man to the father figure.

“This squad has definitely got the potential to be the best one I’ve played in,” Rooney said. “The future for the England team is really bright and it can get off to a spectacular start this summer – but I certainly think the future is bright.”

And do youngsters play with no fear? “Yeah,” said Rooney. “But it can also go the other way. We’re not putting too much pressure on the players. And certainly the younger lads. We know [being young] can be a positive or it can go the other way and players can freeze so we need to make sure we’re all together and behind them, encouraging them, trying to let them express themselves.”

But does such a tender squad – England have the youngest in France – mean they won’t have the tournament smarts? Harry Kane, for example, seemed to do his best to not get Bruno Alves sent off on Thursday. Rooney takes the point – but also thinks if England are relying on that they are in the wrong ball park. “If the referee had played on we might have scored,” he said by way of explaining the Tottenham striker bouncing to his feet having been kung-fu kicked in the head

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