England trying to ignore Rooney tabloid storm

08:25, September 07, 2010      

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England was among a number of fancied sides who began their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with handsome wins, but its trip to Switzerland on Tuesday comes amid a tabloid storm surrounding Wayne Rooney.

The Manchester United striker made three goals in England's 4-0 win at home to Bulgaria on Friday, but damaging newspaper revelations on Sunday alleged he frequented a prostitute while his wife, Coleen, was pregnant.

It comes at an inopportune time for coach Fabio Capello, who is trying to right the England ship after its disappointing World Cup, but James Milner says Rooney will not be affected by the scandal.

"I think you want the best players out on the field and he's obviously one of them. He showed that the other night," the Manchester City midfielder said.

"He's a top, top player and you want to put out the strongest team possible."

England looked close to its impressive pre-World Cup form as it picked apart Bulgaria, but in Switzerland it faces a team that has qualified for the last four major tournaments in succession.

There were few hiccups for the continent's heavyweights as the qualifying competition for the jointly hosted Ukraine-Poland tournament began in earnest on Friday.

Spain won 4-0 in Liechtenstein, beaten World Cup finalist the Netherlands put five unanswered goals past San Marino and Italy came from a goal down to defeat Estonia 2-1 in Tallinn.

Germany began its Group A campaign with a 1-0 win in Belgium, with Miroslav Klose netting his 53rd international goal as Joachim Loew's side picked up from where it left off at the World Cup.

Azerbaijan visits Cologne on Tuesday and Loew says he expects Lukas Podolski, who had a quiet game in Brussels, to impress at his home stadium.

"Of course, you can see a player needs some time to find his rhythm again after a World Cup," Loew said. "I think that Lukas will find his form again."

Italy will expect to take maximum points from its game with habitual minnow the Faroe Islands in Florence.

The 2006 world champion was not at its best against Estonia, but new coach Cesare Prandelli says he saw plenty of encouraging signs.

"Without a good footing you can't go very far, but it was more than just (Andrea) Pirlo and (Antonio) Cassano that pleased me - we're becoming a team," he said. "We've rediscovered the ability to play football with courage."

The Netherlands, for whom new Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored a hat-trick against San Marino, takes on Finland in Rotterdam in Group E.

One high-profile side that failed to impress in its opening qualifying fixture was France, which fell to a 1-0 defeat at home to Belarus in the absence of several key players through injury and suspension.

Les Bleus, European champions in 2000, now face a daunting trip to face Bosnia-Herzegovina, and coach Laurent Blanc says his young side must not shirk the physical battles that are sure to await in Sarajevo.

"We'll have to increase our physical impact," Blanc said.

"We're still a bit tender, the Bosnians will intimidate us and we'll need to have the weapons to respond."

Belarus has never qualified for a major tournament, but it could go clear at the top of Group D if it defeats Romania, which was held to a 1-1 draw in Albania in its group opener.

Portugal, which fell to Spain in the last 16 at the World Cup, visits Norway.

The Euro 2004 finalist shipped four goals in an extraordinary 4-4 draw at home to Cyprus on Friday, prompting centerback Ricardo Carvalho to urge his team to tighten up defensively for the trip to Oslo.

"We have to be more compact, especially at the back," the Real Madrid defender told the UEFA website.

"We played well going forward, but we're normally more secure in defense."

With reigning world and European champion Spain playing Argentina in a friendly in Buenos Aires, Scotland can go top of Group I if it beats Liechtenstein in Glasgow and Lithuania fails to win in the Czech Republic.

Source: China Daily/Agencies


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