WAYNE ROONEY last night declared that England’s striking options are the strongest since he came into the national set-up.
The emergence of Harry Kane this season means Three Lions manager Roy Hodgson now has fierce competition for places up front.
Daniel Sturridge is out for a month with a hip injury but that still leaves Rooney, Kane, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling all vying for an attacking berth in tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at a sold-out Wembley.
It is a situation Rooney, only three goals shy of matching Bobby Charlton’s all-time scoring record for the national team, welcomes and one that is driving him to work even harder to remain part of Hodgson’s starting XI.
“Throughout my career, I have never come and met up with England believing I am a guaranteed starter,” said the 29-year-old. “I work hard in every training session, and I work hard on the pitch, to make sure I keep my place.
“It is great having Harry Kane come through, and Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, who can play up front. It makes me want to work harder because they are exceptional talents.
“I am not coming here to give my place up. I want to play and keep my place so I will work as hard as them, harder than them, to make sure I am in that team.”
Rooney’s debut for England came in 2003 at the tender age of 17 and he has since netted 46 goals in 101 appearances.
With Lithuania ranked 95th in the world by FIFA, the Manchester United striker will fancy his chances of adding to that tally.
His priority, however, is maintaining England’s 100 per cent start to Group E and the captain believes the strength of the forwards at Hodgson’s disposal will be key.
Asked if the current crop was the strongest he had known since joining up with the Three Lions, Rooney replied: “Without doubt, certainly over the last few years.
“We have got a talented group of strikers. Sturridge has come back recently after a long-term injury, Harry Kane has been doing well all season and scoring goals,
“Welbeck has been scoring goals, and myself – I’ve been scoring again since I’ve gone back up front. We are doing well, and we are fighting for those one or two places available up front.”
At club level, Rooney has had a spell in midfield but since returning up front he has again hit the goal trail on a consistent basis. He added: “When you play as a centre-forward, you want to score goals. So I am pleased I am doing that.
“I spoke with the manager and he thought it was better for the team for me to play in midfield, so that is what I did. I am sure in other games he might put me back in midfield, but I am delighted to be playing up front and scoring goals. It is helping us win football matches.
“As for the future, it is a role I know I can play and I have said that many times. But as a centre-forward, your job is to try to score goals, which, thankfully, I have gone back up front and I am doing that.”
On the subject of closing in on Charlton’s record of 49 international goals for England, Rooney added: “Obviously, it is close. But it is important I focus on getting the three points.
“It would be great if I could equal or beat the record but my concentration is 100 per cent on the victories against Lithuania and Italy (on Tuesday).
“If I do get there, it will be a fantastic moment for myself, a proud moment. Hopefully, one day it will happen and sooner rather than later. I have to keep concentrating on what has got me to this position and try to do my best for the team.”
Asked if he had spoken to Charlton, a director at Old Trafford, Rooney added: “Not about it (the record). But I speak to him quite regularly at the club especially after games. I don’t want to bring it up. He is a great ambassador for Manchester United and England. I don’t want to bring it up and say, ‘I’m close to beating it’.”
Hodgson was keeping the identity of his starting line-up under wraps when he spoke to the press yesterday afternoon.
He did, however, give the impression that Kane would start either tonight or against Italy next week to continue an amazing season for the 21-year-old Tottenham man.
Kane may yet feature for the Under-21s in this summer’s European Championships if their manager Gareth Southgate wants him to.
Rooney on Kane: Page 22.