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A Rooney Masterclass Could Yet Inspire an England Win at Euro 2016

10/09/2015 16:57 BST | Updated 10/09/2016 10:12 BST

This is one of those pieces that falls squarely into the 'bold prediction' category, with maybe a little bit of spillover into 'slightly bonkers prediction' land. That's why it's a 'could', not a 'will'.

That being said, this England team is a long way from the absolute disaster zone it's being portrayed as in the media. It's not, shall we say, the most inspiring side who'll be going to France next summer, but that's okay. It isn't a positive, but it's not as much of a negative as a lot of people seem to think.

If it was a World Cup, this would be a significantly less enthusiastic prediction, but it's only the Euros. European national teams are... well, they're not great right now. Out of 53 UEFA sides trying to qualify, England are the only one with a 100% record. Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands have all lost games. England haven't even drawn one. Winning is a habit and they're in it.

Take a look at the teams topping the qualifying groups right now. There's Iceland in Group A, a group from which the Netherlands, World Cup semi-finalists last summer, may not qualify at all. Wales top Group B and while they've got a couple of top class players, they're not all Ashley Williams and Gareth Bale in that squad.

Spain and Germany (just about) top their groups, but then you're back to Northern Ireland and Austria, before finishing on Italy and a Ronaldo-centric Portugal side. If this is the cream of the continent, England have no business not reaching the semi-finals.

"But England have no stars!" goes the cry. "Where are our strikers? We started Jamie Vardy against San Marino! My brain is leaking out through my ears!"

Look, I've had my issues with Wayne Rooney. Only a year ago I suggested that he be dropped by Manchester United for a bit. But the fact that his status as an England great is in question is absolutely ridiculous.

No England player has ever scored more goals for the side than Wayne Rooney. Ever. On a goals per minute ratio, he's a mile ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton, the man who had previously held the England goalscoring record by himself for nearly half a century. What about Rooney isn't great?

It could be that his record in big tournaments is holding him back. After all, Charlton won the World Cup - Rooney didn't even score at a World Cup until his third attempt. At the same time though, Rooney's record in European Championships is much better, with five goals in six games.

If there's one thing we know about Wayne Rooney, it's that he's stubborn and obsessed with winning. England's underperformance in big tournaments will drive him absolutely up the wall and while he may not say it, he must know that next summer is his last chance to really help England challenge for silverware.

So, a fired-up Rooney and a weak challenging field. That might be enough to say that England have an outside chance, but that's not all. We said this before the World Cup too and we all know how that turned out, but England have a handful of really exciting, talented players just on the verge of breaking out.

Whatever you think about Raheem Sterling's move to Manchester City, for example, it's wonderful for the England team. A brilliant youngster, one of the most talented of his generation, has just moved to the league's best attacking side. Have issues with his finishing? Good thing he's now training and playing every day alongside the deadliest finisher in England.

Ross Barkley, too, looks like he's back on the up after a tricky season last time around and the possibility of an actually fit Daniel Sturridge (it has to happen some time, right?) alongside a fired-up Rooney is a mouthwatering prospect. Oh, and there's some kid called Harry Kane knocking around the squad too. No big deal.

Again, this isn't a rousing "we'll win this, look out Europe!" rallying cry, it's more of a call for balance. This isn't a brilliant England side, but it's not a bad one either. There's a habit in the media and the fanbase to sanctify or demonise sides with little middle ground, but it's in that middle ground where this team lives.

They're fifth favourites for the tournament at the moment, just behind Belgium, and if they perform as well as they can then a semi-final shouldn't be out of reach. From that point onwards, anything's possible. If Rooney plays like Rooney, England could just do it.

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