England Wins 3-2 Over Slovenia, Leaving Rooney One Goal Behind Bobby Charlton
The captain matched Gary Lineker’s England haul of 48 goals to ensure the runaway Group E leaders completed a sixth win in six qualifiers on a smooth path so far to the 2016 finals in France.
“It’s great to score the winner and it was a great team performance,” the 29-year-old Rooney told British broadcaster ITV.
As the Manchester United striker moved closer to the scoring milestone, Jack Wilshere finally bagged his first goals for England in his 28th international, scoring twice from outside the area. The two strikes in Ljubljana by the Arsenal midfielder wiped out Slovenia’s halftime lead.
England completed the season unbeaten for the first time in 24 years – 12 months after the team exited the World Cup in the group stage with one point.
“There’s been a lot of progress since the World Cup,” Rooney said. “It was a long time ago when England last went a season unbeaten, and we are proud of our achievement.
“We need to keep improving now and make sure we qualify for the Euros and then take it from there.”
But England can start preparing for the trip to France next June given its six-point lead over Switzerland, which beat Lithuania 2-1, and nine-point advantage over Slovenia.
To have any chance of a first semifinal since Euro ’96, though, Roy Hodgson’s England cannot afford to be as sloppy as they were before Milivoje Novakovic put Slovenia in front in the 37th minute.
A dreadful throw in from England defender Phil Jones went straight to the opposition, which launched a swift counter-attack. The offside trap set by England defenders Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill was easily beaten as Josip Ilicic set Novakovic free to slot past on-rushing goalkeeper Joe Hart.
But Wilshere sparked England’s comeback by adding goals that have been so lacking in an England midfield now shorn of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
Adam Lallana, who replaced the injured Jones at half time, fought to retain possession in a crowded penalty area before Wilshere blasted a loose ball into the top left of the net in the 57th.
A deft backheel flick by Lallana set up Wilshere to strike into the same corner of Samir Handanovic’s goal in the 73rd.
The goals for the 23-year-old Wilshere come at the end of another injury-blighted season for Arsenal.
Although Nejc Pecnik headed in an 84th-minute leveler, Rooney pounced two minutes later after collecting a pass from substitute Theo Walcott to steal the limelight from Wilshere.
“Jack and myself have formed a good understanding on the pitch,” Rooney said. “Hopefully he stays injury free and he will be a top player in world football.”
The first chance for Rooney to match Charlton’s scoring record will be in his 106th international against San Marino in September. Charlton scored his 49 goals in 106 games.
Elsewhere in Group E in Sunday, Sergei Zenjov scored twice to send Estonia up to fourth place with a 2-0 victory over San Marino, two points behind Slovenia.
The Swiss had to come from behind to win in Lithuania, with goals from Josip Drmic and Xherdan Shaqiri pushing them up to second.
The top two teams are guaranteed a place at the finals in France, and most third-place teams will have to go through a playoff.