Rooney undaunted with tough draw in Euro 2016 knockouts, glad to play support role for England
Wayne Rooney is happy playing a redefined role for a young, talented England team. AP

CHANTILLY, France — Wayne Rooney used to go to major tournaments feeling the weight of a nation on his shoulders.

"I had to be the one to win us games, to win us tournaments," the England captain said Thursday (Friday, Manila time), opening up on his run of disappointing showings at World Cups and European Championships since 2006.

"I've always gone into a tournament thinking, 'If I don't play at my best, I can't see us winning it.'"

Rooney doesn't get that feeling at the Euro 2016 in France.

"I've come into this tournament knowing that we have players who are capable of doing magical things," he said. "We have five or six match-winners in our team, and I can't say we've always had that."

For that reason, the Manchester United forward is not concerned that England's side of the draw features most of the tournament favorites — host France, two-time defending champion Spain, world champion Germany and traditional heavyweight Italy.

England's knockout-stage campaign begins against Iceland in the last 16 on Monday.

"If this was four years ago, and you were saying we have to play France, Spain, Germany, we would have been worried," Rooney said. "I think the gap has changed not just for ourselves, but for Wales, Belgium, Italy. The gap to get to those teams is not as big."

Since bursting onto the international scene in Euro 2004 in Portugal as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, injuries and poor form have stopped Rooney from playing his best at tournaments.

The low points came at the 2006 World Cup, when he was sent off against Portugal, and at the 2010 World Cup, when he sarcastically sneered into a camera after a draw with Algeria: "Nice to see the home fans boo you. That's what you call loyal supporters."

Rooney acknowledged that the pressure of being the team's star got to him.

"When it didn't go well, it built up inside," the 30-year-old Rooney said. "I think I'm a different person to what I was then, a different player. That's shown in my football. And naturally as a person, I've matured a lot. I don't think you'll see that again. It's part of your development, that's who I was. That's the person I was back then."

Rooney is happy playing in a redefined role in central midfield for his country

"The position where I'm playing suits me, suits the team," he said.

"I'm happy to sit in the background and let other players (try to win the game). If I have the chance to step up and win us games, then I'll do that.


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