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England manager Roy Hodgson shields Rooney

LiveMint logoLiveMint 15-06-2014 AFP

Manaus, Brazil: England manager Roy Hodgson defended Wayne Rooney after the Manchester United striker was unable to prevent his team from losing 2-1 to Italy in their opening World Cup match.

Rooney began Saturday’s game in Manaus on the left flank to accommodate Raheem Sterling, and although he teed up Daniel Sturridge for England’s equaliser, he occasionally left left-back Leighton Baines exposed.

The 28-year-old also endured a frustrating night in front of the goal, notably lashing one chance wide as England chased the game in the second half. Hodgson, however, said that he had performed admirably.

“We wanted to get Raheem Sterling around (Andrea) Pirlo because of his agility and that meant moving Wayne Rooney, and I thought he did well,” Hodgson said after the Group D encounter at a humid Amazonia Arena.

“He set up the goal for us and worked hard, and did well when we moved him into the centre.

“There’s always going to be one player with a big debate around him, but I think it’s harsh for people to criticise his performance, because for me he played well.”

Sturridge’s goal, in the 37th minute, gave England parity after Claudio Marchisio had fired Italy in front two minutes earlier. But Mario Balotelli’s header early in the second period proved decisive.

Sterling played a key role in the equaliser, freeing Rooney with an incisive pass to the left flank, and was a constant source of invention in the number 10 jersey.

The 19-year-old Liverpool forward’s willingness to run at defenders sowed disarray in the Italian back-line at regular intervals, but Hodgson was reluctant to single him out for praise.

“We thought all the young players did well,” he said.

“Sturridge had an exceptional time until he got a dead leg that forced him off; we thought Sterling was as bright as we’d hoped; (Ross) Barkley, when he came on, did some good things; Jack Wilshere showed all the right intentions; and we know what Danny Welbeck can give us.

“None of those players let me down. They all did what we were hoping they’d do, except of course score that equalising goal.”

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