London: England captain Steven Gerrard insists Wayne Rooney’s ability to keep his fiery temper under control is crucial to his side’s bid to qualify for the World Cup.
Rooney scored for the fourth successive qualifier, the first England player to achieve that feat since David Beckham 10 years ago, as Roy Hodgson’s team held on for a 1-1 draw against Montenegro on Tuesday.
The Manchester United forward’s first-half header wasn’t enough to secure what would have been a valuable victory over the group leaders as Montenegro hit back to equalise through Dejan Damjanovic in the second half.
But Gerrard felt Rooney, who had been sent off on his last appearance in Montenegro 17 months ago, was instrumental in England’s best moments because he was able to cope well with the hostile atmosphere in Podgorica.
And, with England’s bid to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil still in the balance, the Liverpool midfielder hopes Rooney can continue to play with such maturity.
“Wayne is a fantastic player and a great goalscorer. If the lads in the team can create the service for Wayne, we know he will score goals,” Gerrard said,
“He also deserves credit for that goalscoring record. Hopefully he will get more goals and fire us to the World Cup.
“I also thought his behaviour was magnificent. He had been on the agenda in the press all week with people wondering how he was going to behave.
“I thought he handled himself magnificently and got us that important goal.”
Rooney’s goal was his 35th for his country and he is now only five behind fourth-placed Michael Owen in the all-time list of England goalscorers.
But Montenegro’s second-half revival keeps them two points clear of England and in control of the race for automatic qualification.
Gerrard conceded England were frustrated to have let an important opportunity slip away, but he remains confident Hodgson’s team can win the group.
“We finished the game really strongly but we are disappointed with the 30 minutes in the second half when we let them back into the game,” Gerrard said.
“We should have taken control. You need to get that second goal at this level otherwise you are inviting them onto you.
“But credit to them, they kept pushing and pushing and we have to hold our hands up and say they deserved an equaliser.
“There is an element of frustration there but this result is not the end of the world. It is still in our hands.
“We are disappointed with periods of the game but we are also very happy with the first-half performance. If we can get that for 90 minutes, we believe we can still qualify.
“We will have to wait and see how the other teams do in their fixtures but we are more than capable of winning the last four matches.”