Football

Rooney hails 'winners' in England team

Rooney says England can do 'magical things' with the talent in the squad

ROUND OF 16

ENGLAND v ICELAND

(Tuesday, 2.50am, Singtel TV Ch 142 & 
StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)

Wayne Rooney believes England are capable of "magical things" at Euro 2016 thanks to a talented squad blessed with more match-winners than he can remember.

It has been 50 frustrating years since lifting the World Cup on home soil, but promising times appear on the horizon and there is a belief within the camp that this summer could be memorable.

England may have followed Wales home as Group B runners-up, but Roy Hodgson's unbeaten side have shown exciting flashes, if a worrying inability to turn domination into goals.

The overall displays, along with impressive performances against the continent's best over the past year, have fuelled Rooney's belief that they can challenge for Euro 2016, as well as making the captain realise he can share the burden of a nation's expectation.

"I have always held a lot of pressure in at previous tournaments, feeling I have to be the one who has to win games and tournaments," the 30-year-old said.

"But we now have a lot of players who can do that and I am happy to sit in the background and allow the players do that.

"If I have to be the person to step up and win us games, I will do that.

"But I am happy with the way it is going and my role in the team.

"The pressure is on us all to do well but I have always gone into a tournament thinking, 'If I don't play at my best, I cannot see us winning it'.

"I have come into this tournament and we have players capable of doing magical things.

"We are different, but we have match-winners. We have five or six match-winners in our team and I cannot say we have always had that."

It is fair to say no team have truly laid down a marker in France so far, with Rooney most impressed by Croatia and stand-out midfielder Luka Modric.

England would have been in their half of the draw had Hodgson's heavily rotated side found a way past Slovakia on Monday, with second place in Group B instead giving them a more treacherous route to the Stade de France finale.

A last-16 tie with the lowest-ranked side in the tournament awaits, but following Iceland on Tuesday morning (Singapore time) could be clash with hosts France then a semi-final against the reigning champions Spain or World Cup winners Germany.

"If this was four years ago and you were saying you have to play France, Spain, Germany, you would have been worried," Rooney said of the countries potentially blocking their route to the final.

"I think the gap has changed, and not just with ourselves to then teams but with the likes of Wales. Belgium have become a really good team.

"Italy are doing well, as they always do at tournaments. The gap to get to those teams is not as big."

Rooney has long spoken glowingly of this exciting batch of players and believes his sixth major tournament could yet end with silverware.

"My time playing for England in tournaments has been disappointing because we haven't gone further in knockout stages," the captain said, having experienced just one win beyond the group stage against Ecuador at the World Cup a decade ago.

"I feel we have a chance of doing really well in this tournament. It's going to be tough but we are confident, we have a very good team.

"Other teams will be looking at us and saying they are not too pleased we are in their half of the draw, rather than us looking at them.

"We want to win it and that's the aim. I am not going to sit here and say, 'We are a group of young players, so we'll be happy to get to the quarter-finals, the future's bright over the next two to four years' and all that.

"We are here and we want to win it. Whether it happens remains to be seen, but we are not going to say that getting to the quarter-finals will be a sign of progress. I believe we are better than that."

- PA Sport.


England practise penalties ahead of Iceland clash

England are intensifying penalty practice ahead of the Euro 2016 knockout stages, with Wayne Rooney honing his technique by trying to beat the goalkeeper after telling him where he is putting it.

The last-16 clash with Iceland on Tuesday morning (Singapore time) is the Three Lions' first knockout match at a major tournament since Euro 2012, when they lost to Italy at the quarter-final juncture.

That was England's sixth defeat in seven penalty shoot-outs and has understandably led the issue to come into focus ahead of the trip to the Stade de Nice.

Rooney, now at his sixth major tournament, was quick to point out that none of the 23-man squad have missed a spot-kick in a shoot-out, although they have stepped up practice ahead of Tuesday morning's match.

"I think now we are in the knockout stages, I'm sure we will practise a lot more as a group rather than players going up individually - practise as a group in case it comes and we need them," he said.

"It's a nervous moment. I remember in the last Euros against Italy. As I've said before, I always know which way I'm going and (Gianluigi) Buffon was actually pointing and telling me he knows I'm going that way.

"He was right, so then I started wondering if I should go the other way. But I ended up the going the same way but he dived the other way.

"Just by a goalkeeper pointing one way, it can knock you off. But you have to be confident in what you have practised."

It underlines how much penalty-taking is as much about mental strength as technique and Rooney attempts to replicate that match scenario during practice.

The country's all-time top scorer spoke of the importance of getting into the rhythm of finding a corner and is telling England's goalkeepers where he is placing it to make it as difficult as possible during training.

"Whatever corner I am going for, I tell the goalkeeper, so that makes it harder for me," Rooney said.

"If he can't save it, despite knowing which way I am going, there are no worries for me in taking them.

"It's more difficult, but if he doesn't save it, it's fine."

- PA Sport.

Seven facts about Iceland

England play Iceland in the last 16 of Euro 2016 in Nice on Monday.

Ahead of that game, here are seven facts about Iceland.

1 There are 12 teams in Icelandic football's top flight

There are 12 clubs in Icelandic football's top flight, called the Urvalsdeild.

Capital Reykjavik boasts half of that number with the first, Vikingur, founded in 1908 with former Portsmouth, Charlton and Ipswich defender Hermann Hreidarsson coach of Fylkir, who are based in the east of the city. Fylkir are bottom of the Urvalsdeild after seven games.

2 The Danish king caused Iceland to miss Olympic glory

Iceland arguably blew their big chance to win loads of Olympic medals. After a successful demonstration in 1912, they secured agreement from the IOC to include glima - a Viking martial art - at the Antwerp Games eight years later.

But, due to a scheduled visit by the Danish king, Iceland withdrew all their wrestlers in order to entertain him. Shorn of its stars, the Olympic event was cancelled and glima never made it near the Olympic programme again.

3 Putrefied shark is a popular dish

One of the most popular dishes in Iceland is hakarl, or putrefied shark.

Once caught, the shark is rid of its dangerous levels of urea by burying it underground for up to 12 weeks.

It is then hung and fermented for up to five months. It is then, theoretically at least, eaten, accompanied by (several) shots of Brennivin, the Icelandic schnapps of choice.

4 David James played league football in Iceland

A number of prominent English football names have appeared in the Urvalsdeild.

Ex-England goalkeeper David James played for IBV, when ex-Pompey teammate Hreidarsson was manager, in 2013.

Lee Sharpe (Grindavik), Walsall assistant manager Dean Holden (Valur) and Nigel Quashie (IR, BI) have also played in Iceland.

5 Icelanders believe in elves

In a survey conducted in 1998, 54.4 per cent of Icelanders said they believed in the existence of elves.

Author Ragnhildur Jonsdottir told The Atlantic: "If this was just one crazy lady talking about invisible friends, it's really easy to laugh about that. But it's beyond one or two crazy ladies. It is part of the nation."

6 Strip clubs are banned

In 2010, Iceland became the first country in the world to ban strip clubs for feminist, rather than religious, reasons.

Kolbrun Halldorsdottir, who proposed the ban which was passed unanimously, explained: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold."

7 There are no McDonald's restaurants

The last McDonald's in Iceland closed in 2009.

The man who bought the last cheeseburger, Hjortur Smarason, took it home and put it on a shelf in his garage.

Six years later, having failed to decompose, it was donated to Iceland's national museum and is currently on display in a hotel foyer. - PA Sport.

Keane plays down revenge factor

ROUND OF 16

FRANCE v 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

(Tomorrow, 8.50pm, Singtel TV 
Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)

Roy Keane has vowed to carry on hugging as the Republic of Ireland gear up for their Euro 2016 showdown with hosts France.

The 44-year-old assistant manager (above) was pictured in a touchline embrace with Ireland boss Martin O'Neill at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille on Wednesday after their players had booked a place in the last 16 with a 1-0 victory over Italy.

Those images were reproduced all over Europe, much to the consternation of the former Republic and Manchester United skipper, who insists he hugs people all the time.

Speaking at Ireland's Versailles training base yesterday, Keane (above) said: "I don't think you can win. People either think you are too grumpy or you are too happy, I can't seem to find that line in between, you know?

"After the game, what are you going to do? Everyone was hugging each other, it was fantastic and I'd like to think if we get a win against France, we'll be doing exactly the same.

"It's just a bit silly that everyone seems to be making a big song and dance about it. You must have very, very little to write about, you must be very bored just to make a song and dance about that.

"I'm always hugging people, just usually, there's not people around. I'm always hugging my dogs, but no one seems to bother about that. Family, friends... yes, you do. We were happy."

not a suprise

Like Northern Ireland and Iceland, the republic have taken some by surprise by making it out of their group, but Keane is adamant that their progression should not have come as a shock.

He said: "To me, there have been no real surprises. The teams that have done well, I thought, had a chance of getting out of their groups.

"The Icelands and ourselves - maybe if later in the competition we're still in it, you go maybe yeah (it is a surprise) but, in terms of getting out of the group and where the teams are now, I don't think there have been any real surprises or shocks.

"I think it's been expected and these teams have turned up.

"People talk about (Northern Ireland) and Wales - they've got good players. People seem surprised by Iceland but, if you do your homework on Iceland, it's no surprise.

"They've got a good team, a strong team, good mentality, physically very strong - look at their qualifying campaign."

The clash with France has inevitably rekindled memories of the last time the sides met in November 2009 when Thierry Henry's handball denied Ireland a trip to the World Cup Finals, although Keane refused to be drawn into talk of a revenge mission.

Asked about that night by a French journalist, he replied: "We don't have that mentality. Revenge doesn't come into it."

- PA Sport.

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