England captain Wayne Rooney admitted he is under more pressure for his place in the national team than at any point in his international career by an emerging group of promising strikers.
Rooney, 30, is England’s all-time leading scorer with 50 goals in his 107 caps, but he will be left on the bench by coach Roy Hodgson for a glamour friendly against Spain in Alicante on Friday.
Hodgson was quick to underline his decision was based firmly on the opportunity to hand others the chance to make their case ahead of next year’s European Championships.
However, with the likes of Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane having outscored Rooney in the Premier League so far this season and with Hodgson hoping Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Theo Walcott will all return from injury in time for the Euros, Rooney accepts he can’t take his place for granted.
“It’s the best group of strikers certainly since I’ve been involved in the squad,” said Rooney.
“You’ve got players like Welbeck, Sturridge and Theo who are out injured and it’s a huge array of talent.
“I think it’s great for the country because in previous years we’ve gone into tournaments and we haven’t really had that many match winners in the squad and now we’ve got quite a few which can certainly benefit us as a team.
“It is a huge challenge to keep your place in the team and that is what I want to do.
“I feel, certainly since Roy has been in charge, my international form has been great. I’ve scored a lot of goals and hopefully I can keep doing that.”
Hodgson had been hoping to start Vardy against the European champions, but an injury picked up last weekend is likely to mean the on-form Leicester City striker misses out with Kane set to lead the line in Rooney’s absence.
England romped through their qualification campaign with a 100 percent record from their 10 games to bounce back from a hugely disappointing group stage exit at the 2014 World Cup.
And Hodgson welcomes the thought of having far more difficult decisions to make when it comes to picking his final 23-man squad for the Euros than he faced before going to Brazil.
“It would be nice to have all those players back fit and fighting for a place. It’s such a different situation to during and after the World Cup when I don’t think we had that degree of people knocking on the door,” he said.
“In the past there wasn’t as many candidates which excited people so I can only see that as an advantage.
“It could lead to being a disadvantage for one or two of the candidates going forward because they might not make the final cut, but everyone has got their chance.”
Hodgson confirmed another promising talent in Ross Barkley will also start against Spain and he urged the Everton man to make himself undroppable after a two-year spell in which he has faded in an out of the team.
“I think the future is unbelievably bright for a player like Ross Barkley. It is up to him to keep working, keep improving and make sure his name in the future is one I can’t possibly leave out.”