Rooney urges England to enjoy pressure of being favourites

Date published: Monday 27th June 2016 10:55

Wayne Rooney: Captain believes England have been unlucky

Wayne Rooney says England must relish the pressure of being favourites against Iceland on Monday.

The French Riviera will on Monday evening play host to a fascinating last-16 clash between the 1966 World Cup winners and the smallest country to ever appear at a major tournament.

Despite hailing from a tiny island with the same population as Leicester, Iceland have upset the apple cart both in qualifying for Euro 2016 and at the finals itself, pipping Portugal to second spot in Group F.

However, the North Atlantic nation are priced at 7/1 with bookmakers to win on Monday, when captain Rooney – now at his sixth major tournament – wants England to enjoy the burden of expectation.

“Every game has a lot of pressure playing for England,” he said, speaking at the Stade de Nice on the eve of the match.

“We understand that as a team, as a group of players, and we know we are favourites to win this game. There’s no denying that. We’re confident we can, we will give everything and we will try to take what we’ve worked on, our game plan, into the game to give us the best chance to win it.

“I believe if we play the way we can and stick to the things we’ve worked on, we will win the game. If something drastic happens and we don’t stick to what we’ve worked on, even if Iceland play a different way than we are expecting, we will have to adapt quickly.

“There is pressure, of course, but it is down to us as a team to play under that pressure and enjoy it – enjoy having that pressure on us because if we win we are in the quarter-finals.”

The opponents in the last eight will be hosts France after Didier Deschamps’ side came from behind to defeat the Republic of Ireland on Sunday afternoon.

Rooney believes it would be a “great game” but overcoming Iceland is his only focus, especially having seen England fail to turn domination into goals as they finished runners-up in Group B.

“We’ve seen how the other games have gone, games we should have won but we didn’t so we are not taking this game lightly at all,” the 30-year-old said.

“We have to be patient. We have watched how Iceland have played (in the group games) and some games from the qualifying campaign. It will be tough. We will have to move the ball and make them run and hope that the gaps will be there and take advantage.”

Iceland’s organisation, work-rate and togetherness will no doubt make Monday a tough night, but there looks fewer better chances for Rooney to taste a second knockout win.

“There’s not many players in the squad who have got that record so hopefully it won’t affect them,” said the skipper, whose only victory came a decade ago against Ecuador in the World Cup second round.

“For me, the other tournaments have gone. It’s a new tournament and a new challenge for us as a team so it’s pointless looking back at previous games and knockout stages and how they have gone.

“I actually think we’ve been very unlucky in the two games against Portugal which I have been involved in, but we’re looking forward to the game (on Monday night) now and hopefully we’ll win.”

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