England great Wayne Rooney got a heartfelt send-off and first-hand glimpse of the future as debutant Callum Wilson completed a comfortable win for Gareth Southgate’s experimental side against the United States.
Focus on No 10 switched from Downing Street to Wembley on Thursday evening as the Three Lions’ all-time top scorer and most capped outfield player brought the curtain down on his international career once and for all.
Rooney received a warm reception before and after coming on for his 120th appearance for England, who prepared for Sunday’s crunch Nations League clash with Croatia by beating the USA 3-0 thanks to goals from Jesse Lingard, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Wilson.
The latter wrapped up victory on a night that also saw Lewis Dunk and Alex McCarthy make their international bows, with 18-year-old Jadon Sancho handed his first start as the Three Lions looked to the future while also paying tribute to one of their greatest players.
Rooney received a standing ovation when brought on in the 58th minute of a match that Southgate’s men were already in control of thanks to a fine Lingard effort and Alexander-Arnold’s first goal for his country.
There was to be no fairytale farewell goal for the 33-year-old, but he was first to celebrate with Wilson after the debutant scored the third on a night that saw the DC United forward impress against the country he now calls home.
His appearance in this friendly may have split opinion in the build-up, but there can be no doubt that the support for the Wayne Rooney Foundation and chance for fans to say thanks was only positive.
Afterwards, Rooney said: “It went as I imagined it, really.
“Being around the players has been great; seeing how they’re working and how they’re improving has been great for me.
“I’ve done my personal thank yous but I want to thank the FA and Gareth for giving me this opportunity, and the players.
“Tonight was a great way to finish off my international career, the lads played brilliant, it was a great game, unfortunately I couldn’t get a goal – nearly – but it was something I’ll remember for a long time.
“It’s two years since I played, tonight was a great night for me and my family, I’m proud to have played for England so many times and to be the record goalscorer and I can sit back and watch them”
Rooney was the focus from the outset and was joined by his four boys before kick-off as he received a guard of honour from both sets of players – a heartwarming moment followed by a stirring England start.
USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan was under pressure early on, superbly tipping a Dele Alli header onto the bar – unaware the lineman’s flag was up – before Wilson frustratingly failed to turn home a cross from six yards. Wilson soon went down in the box as Guzan rushed out, but there would be no penalty or yellow card for diving, just angry words from the American.
Lingard stung the palms as Sancho impressed, before the teenager’s Borussia Dortmund team-mate, Christian Pulisic, came close to scoring.
Michael Keane and Dunk had looked assured, if largely untroubled, until the point that Pulisic raced onto his own flick, only for Jordan Pickford to come to the home side’s rescue.
It was a let-off that England swiftly capitalised on. Alli won possession on the left flank and eventually played back to the unmarked Lingard on the edge of the box, where he curled a superb effort into the top right-hand corner.
Just 104 seconds later, Rooney was clapping another goal as he warmed-up on the sideline, with Sancho notching his first England assist by feeding Alexander-Arnold to thump home his maiden international strike.
Substitute Rooney got his first sniff of goal in the 71st minute as he cut back on the edge of the box and got away an attempt that Guzan easily stopped.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek was blocked after being found by a superb Rooney pass, before Wilson turned wide a cross under pressure. Just as the Cherries frontman looked to be denied, he found the net by getting across John Brooks to turn home a cross from Fabian Delph, who had captained the side for the first time before Rooney’s introduction.
The Wembley faithful was willing Rooney to add to Wilson’s goal, but Guzan denied him in stoppage time.
That missed opportunity was greeted with a smile from the striker, just as his inability to reach a late cross was.