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Five Aside

Neville impressed by 'lean' Rooney

England coach Gary Neville has hailed the physical condition of Wayne Rooney ahead of his nation's World Cup qualifier against Poland on Tuesday night.

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Rooney, 26, came in for criticism for his form and fitness level after a poor display in his club Manchester United's defeat to Everton in their opening match of the 2012-13 Premier League season.

The striker has since demonstrated a return to form, after a spell on the sidelines with a gash to his leg sustained versus Fulham meant he could work on his physical condition.

Rooney struck twice for England in their 5-0 win over San Marino on Friday, and Neville is expecting the forward to make a further impression in their meeting with Poland in Warsaw.

"Rooney is best when he plays like the street kid; fights for every ball, loves playing football, wants to take every free-kick, every throw-in, tackles, heads, fights like he has the passion to win," Neville told BBC Radio Five Live.

"The last couple of weeks, coming back from injury, I've seen a lean, fit, hungry Rooney. He looks like he is up for the next challenge in his career, to maintain his position at Manchester United."

Rooney currently faces stiff competition for a striking berth at United, after Robin van Persie signed for the club from Arsenal in the summer, and he has recently been used an in advanced midfield role.

Neville has been impressed with the former Everton player's adaptability and is tipping him to emulate the likes of experienced United team-mates Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in developing their game as he ages.

"At the age of 26 you always have to think there's more to come," Neville added. "You can't get to the age of 26 and think 'My best years have gone'. He has to challenge himself.

"He has great examples of players who have continued to do that in Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Giggs has gone from a flying, out-and-out left-winger to someone who now plays off the front, inside-left and central midfield.

"Scholes was a goal-scoring midfielder, off-the-front number player when he started playing as a 16-year-old. Now he's a holding midfielder who controls the game.

"Rooney is still a centre-forward, but he'll adapt over this next 10 years to continue to become someone who's thought of in the same way as those two players."


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