The corner flag did not stand a chance at Craven Cottage and neither did Slovak goalkeeper Stefan Senecky at Wembley on Saturday. Nothing, it seems, can stand in Wayne Rooney
's way. He is suddenly unstoppable in an England shirt, the first player to score in four successive matches for the country since Gary Lineker began an impressive sequence with a hat-trick against Poland at the 1986 World Cup. Rooney's second goal against Slovakia was of the highest quality, combining movement and speed of thought to wrongfoot Senecky with his right boot and seamlessly finishing in his next stride with his left.
That finish was raw talent instead of raw aggression, taking the frustrations of his club form with Manchester United out on the international stage. Rooney insisted after the game 'I am always in control' and while that may not be the general impression, his international colleagues are inthrall, with captain John Terry talking enthusiastically about 'lettinghim get on with it' and Carlton Cole applauding Rooney's combative approach.
Cole said: 'Sometimes his temperament lets him down, but he's got world-class qualities and showed exactly what he can do against Slovakia. It doesn't matter if he's knocking corner flags around aslong as he's not knocking anyone out.' Rooney's touch on Saturday was imperious, dropping off deep in the first half to collect a ball from Ashley Cole before fizzing it an inch off the ground and 40 yards across the pitch towards Glen Johnson. It was a terrific, Beckham-esque ball and earned a nod of approval fromthe 109 man on the bench.
Rooney said after being named man of the match: 'I enjoy being free and it's a great position to play. You can get the ball a lot and get thechance to create and score goals. 'I work with Steven Gerrard in training changing positions. He'splaying unbelievably well for Liverpool and it's good we both slotted into our positions and did well. The team's playing better now and it's certainly helping me.' He has scored seven times in his last four internationals (two v Slovakia, two v Belarus, two v Kazakhstan and one v Croatia), although he missed the unexpected victory in Germany last November and most recently the 2-0 defeat in Spain.
Old and new: Rooney celebrates with Beckham after scoring against Slovakia
He gave Liverpool's Slovakia defender Martin Skrtel the run around, darting into different areas and opening up a static defence with measured balls beyond full-backs that have become his trademark. Skrtel said: 'It's difficult to play against him because he moves everywhere. He plays not only against defenders but also midfielders because he drops deep.' Rooney also shrugged off the inconvenience of playing with three separate strike partners (Cole, Emile Heskey and Peter Crouch) byleaving a lasting impression with a peerless performance. 'Everyone knows what is expected of them under the manager and everyone respects him because of his record,' said Rooney. '
You listen to him and I'm enjoying it. 'He has to be, thriving on the extra responsibility placed on him by Capello and rewarding him with his best performances since Euro 2004. At just 23 years and five months, he will win his 50th cap against Ukraine in Wednesday's World Cup qualifier, joining an impressive number of players to accomplish the feat. Beckham, at the same age, had just 19. 'I hope the next 50 caps will be even better,' added the Manchester United striker. 'I'm pleased to get to 50, but winning a trophy withEngland is more important.' They must have Rooney in the team if they are to stand a chance of doing it.