In Review

Wayne Rooney bows out - but young guns steal the show

Veteran striker heads into the sunset but England’s future looks bright ahead of Nations League showdown

England 3 USA 0

Wayne Rooney made his 120th and final appearance in an England shirt as the Three Lions put three unanswered goals past the USA at Wembley.

Despite the presence of the old stager as a second-half substitute, it was the performance of the new generation of young players that put a smile on the face of England boss Gareth Southgate - along with news of Croatia’s dramatic win over Spain.

Sunday showdown

A late goal from Tin Jedvaj gave the Croats a 3-2 win against the leaders of Group A4 in the Nations League, a result that throws the pool wide open ahead of the final game on Sunday.

That pits England against Croatia, with the winner finishing top and progressing to June’s knockout phase. Should the game finish all-square then Spain will qualify as they currently have six points, two more than England and Croatia. To further complicate matters, if Sunday’s fixture at Wembley ends in a goalless draw England will finish second, with Croatia relegated, but a score draw would push Croatia ahead of England on the basis of their head-to-head record, resulting in the demotion of Southgate’s side.

Very special

“Croatia have shown again their resilience; it sets Sunday up to be a very special tie,” said the England manager. “I’m sure whoever devised the Nations League is sitting smugly somewhere in Switzerland.

“We know not to underestimate Croatia. They have a huge lift tonight and the great thing is it sets up a brilliant game at the end of what has been a really exciting year.”

Glimpse of the future

England will go into Sunday’s game with their confidence high after another impressive display. The opposition may not have been up to much but it was one of those evenings that, in previous eras, would have produced one of those uninterested performances that used to infuriate England fans.

But this generation have enthusiasm to go with their industry and invention, and the 68,000 fans who filled Wembley were treated to a lively 90 minutes from a starting XI boasting just 94 caps - the fewest fielded by an England side since 1980.

“We wanted to use this game to look at young players,” explained Southgate. “We had a really inexperienced team out there, so they’ve come through and learned a lot... we had a glimpse of the future.”

A good test

Describing England’s first-half attack as “really exciting”, Southgate was delighted with the way the youngsters overran the Americans in the first half-hour, with Jesse Lingard curling in a spectacular opener and man-of-the-match Trent Alexander-Arnold rifling in the second on 27 minutes.

The pace eased after the break, as the 33-year-old Rooney was introduced, but it was a newbie, Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson, who sealed the win with a close-range effort on 77 minutes that sets up the squad for Sunday’s crucial encounter.

“We’ve got really good competition for places and it was a good test for them,” reflected Southgate. “We’ve got a brilliant game to come now, this is what the Nations League is all about.”

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