Wayne Rooney says he is confident England’s young squad will have a successful future but that they must try to seize the chance to impress at Euro 2016.
Only a point is required from Monday’s encounter against Slovakia to ensure safe passage to the round of 16, having secured a memorable 2-1 comeback win against neighbours Wales days after the 1-1 draw with Russia.
Roy Hodgson’s men were denied a deserved victory at the end of their Group B opener against Russia in Marseille, where the lineup’s average age of 25 years and 293 days made it England’s second-youngest ever at a major finals.
Rooney is excited by the group’s potential and the captain is confident this summer’s European Championship can be memorable.
“As I’ve said before, we’ve got a very good, exciting squad and I think time will tell,” the Manchester United man said when asked to compare the squad to ones of years gone by.
“I think we’re not going to get judged on what happens in this tournament — I think the players have got a lot of years ahead of them and this tournament will help, but we’re not here as a group of players for the experience. We’re here to try and do well and go far.
“But I certainly think over the next few years this squad can grow into a better team, a more mature team. But at the minute, we’re trying to do as well as we can and we feel we’ve had a good start.
“We hope we can continue that and go into the later stages of the tournament.”
England certainly look to have a solid foundation on which to build, with the defence performing better than many expected and a talented midfield shored up by Rooney’s presence.
The 30-year-old’s first two appearances for his country in central midfield have been a success and partly down to England’s impressive attacking strength in depth.
“They’re great to have in the squad,” Rooney said of those options. “Everyone has seen the quality of players which we mentioned before the tournament.
“We have got a squad of 23 players and whoever the manager decides to play, obviously it’s his choice, we have players who can change games, which happened in the Wales game.
“It’s obviously great to try and create chances for the other players, to create chances for them players because, as this season has shown, they’re goalscorers. If they get chances, they will score goals.
“We know we’ve got good quality players who can score goals and it’s important that we try and get them the chances to get them the opportunity to do that.”
Monday’s match looks a good chance to add more goals, given Slovakia have never kept a clean sheet in a major tournament.
The match also sees England return to Saint-Etienne for the first time since the memorable round-of-16 clash with Argentina at the 1998 World Cup.
Michael Owen’s wonderful solo goal and David Beckham’s sending off punctuated a match that ended in a penalty shootout exit.
“I remember the game,” Rooney said. “I watched it in my Nan’s house. Obviously Michael Owen as a young lad scoring a great goal and in the end the disappointment of David Beckham getting sent off.
“But I think it was a fantastic tournament to watch and great memories from it.”