Jack Wilshere believes Wayne Rooney remains England’s best player and praised the captain for helping the midfield produce an “almost faultless” display in their Euro 2016 opener.
Saturday’s Group B clash against Russia ended in frustration as Eric Dier’s thunderous free-kick was cancelled out by a last-gasp Vasili Berezutsky header, robbing manager Roy Hodgson’s men of a deserved three points.
It ratchets up the pressure ahead of Thursday’s encounter with neighbours Wales, but there remains an air of confidence around the squad following the 1-1 draw in Marseille.
England looked defensively solid and attacked with fluidity, with the new-look midfield triumvirate of Dier, Dele Alli and Rooney impressing.
“I think the midfield were all great, almost faultless,” said Wilshere, who came on after 78 minutes.
“We moved it around – in the past England teams have been accused of panicking on the ball, not keeping the ball.
“We attacked. If we couldn’t go down one side, we came out, we kept the ball and played through midfield. I thought they did well.”
Rooney was highly praised after winning his 112th cap, playing in midfield internationally for the first time.
It is a role the 30-year-old impressed in for FA Cup winners Manchester United towards the end of the season and one to which Wilshere believes he is well suited. “He’s fantastic,” the England midfielder said at England’s training base in Chantilly.
“I watched him towards the end of the season playing for United in that deeper role and people were saying, ‘can he do it?’
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘he’s doing it and he’s the best player on the pitch’.
“He’s that type of player who understands the game; he can pick up the ball, is comfortable on the ball and you saw his range of passing as well.
“I’ve said it before, I think he’s our best player and he has been for many years.
“To have someone like that in the team (is great) because also he can still play up front, in my opinion.
“He has been dropping into midfield and getting on the ball, which is fantastic.”
Rooney’s effectiveness in that position could well see him start there against Wales.
Given yesterday off by Hodgson and the coaching staff, the squad will today resume preparations refreshed as the Three Lions look to turn Saturday’s impressive display into winning football.
“I think we don’t want to get carried away too much with the frustration – we just want to concentrate on the things we did,” Wilshere said.
“We could have been two or three up at half-time on another day. If we can put a few more of those chances away, and I am sure we will as the tournament goes on, we will get a little bit more confident.”
Saturday’s goalscorer Dier knows Wales will be desperate to get one over on “the enemy” and harm England’s Euro 2016 hopes.
Chris Coleman’s men top Group B after marking their first European Championship match with a 2-1 victory against Slovakia.
England are overwhelming favourites to win in Lens despite the 1-1 draw, but defensive midfielder Dier knows Wales will raise their game against what Gareth Bale labelled “the enemy” in the build-up.
“Obviously there’s a lot to it,” said Dier. “I think as well it might be a bit less of an international game and a bit more of an English game, especially with the players. It might be a bit different to all the other games you’ve seen in the tournament, so I think that’s good for the spectators as well.
“Obviously it’s a massive game for them and for us, for many different reasons. Everyone is going to look forward to it.
“I think the underdogs are always up for it, always wanting to prove a point and that makes it even harder for the favourites.
“If we are the favourite, we need to be even more well-prepared and more ready for it because they’ll be desperate to do their best obviously after the result they had as well.”
Despite the fact a third-placed finish could be enough to progress from the group, Thursday remains vital for England after producing an impressive performance without the result it deserved. Dier is focusing on the positive aspects of Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Marseille and is not allowing the disappointment of conceding a late leveller to fester.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to get negative about it,” he said. “Obviously we’re disappointed that we conceded a late goal, but apart from that I thought it was definitely the best England performance I’ve played in.
“I’ve not played in many but I thought it was fantastic. That’s the feeling I got from the response from the fans when the game was going on.
“I think there are so many positives to take. I don’t think we should be putting ourselves down and we are going to look forward to the next game.”
Dier looks a shoo-in for the starting line-up after impressing in defensive midfield.