Wayne Rooney believes England are capable of “magical things” at Euro 2016 thanks to a talented squad blessed with more match-winners than he can remember.
It has been 50 frustrating years since lifting the World Cup on home soil, but promising times appear on the horizon and there is a belief within the camp that this summer could be memorable.
England may have followed Wales home as Group B runners-up, but Roy Hodgson’s unbeaten side have shown exciting flashes, if a worrying inability to turn domination into goals.
The overall displays, along with impressive performances against the continent’s best over the past year, has fuelled Rooney’s belief that they can challenge for Euro 2016, as well as making the captain realise he can share the burden of a nation’s expectation.
“I have always held a lot of pressure in at previous tournaments, feeling I have to be the one who has to win games and tournaments,” the 30-year-old said.
“But we now have a lot of players who can do that and I am happy to sit in the background and allow the players do that.
“If I have to be the person to step up and win us games, I will do that. But I am happy with the way it is going and my role in the team.
“The pressure is on us all to do well but I have always gone into a tournament thinking, ‘if I don’t play at my best I cannot see us winning it’.
“I have come into this tournament and we have players capable of doing magical things.
“We are different but we have match-winners. We have five or six match-winners in our team and I cannot say we have always had that.”
Rooney has long spoken glowingly of this exciting batch of players and believes his sixth major tournament could yet end with silverware.
“My time playing for England in tournaments has been disappointing because we haven’t gone further in knockout stages,” the captain said, having experienced just one win beyond the group stage against Ecuador at the World Cup a decade ago.
“I feel we have a chance of doing really well in this tournament. It’s going to be tough but we are confident, we have a very good team.
“Other teams will be looking at us and saying they are not too pleased we are in their half of the draw, rather than us looking at them.
“We want to win it and that’s the aim. I am not going to sit here and say, ‘we are a group of young players, so we’ll be happy to get to the quarter-finals, the future’s bright over the next two to four years’ and all that.
“We are here and we want to win it. Whether it happens remains to be seen, but we are not going to say that getting to the quarter-finals will be a sign of progress. I believe we are better than that.”