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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

Barclays Premier League
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By ESPN Staff

Rooney can lead us to Euro 2008, says McClaren

Steve McClaren is convinced Wayne Rooney can fire England into Euro 2008.

The Manchester United striker has been in superb form during pre-season so far, with McClaren on hand to see two of his best performances, against Inter Milan and then in the Community Shield win over Chelsea on Sunday.

Already Sir Alex Ferguson has tipped Rooney for big things this term.

And McClaren recognises the 21-year-old will be a key man too as England look to get the results required in their final five qualifying games this autumn that will ensure safe passage into next year's finals in Austria and Switzerland.

McClaren said: 'It is great to see Wayne coming back from his break this summer in top form.

'I spoke to Sir Alex quite early on and he told me how fit Wayne was. He certainly looks very fit from what I have seen.

'It is his first full pre-season for a while as well, so you are bound to benefit from that.

'Speaking to Wayne, I know he is dying to get back into the England squad and he is going to be a big player for us.'

After missing out on the June win over Estonia through suspension, Rooney is an automatic choice for the August 22 friendly with Germany at Wembley.

McClaren does have problems in other areas though, particularly in defence, where Sol Campbell is among a number of contenders to fill the vacancy created by the absence of skipper John Terry.

Campbell has not played for his country since the 2006 World Cup.

However, while McClaren was at pains to stress it would be 'foolish' to ignore the veteran, he does have alternatives in the form of Wes Brown and Michael Dawson and is by no means certain the 32-year-old will be in the England squad to face Germany, which will be announced a week on Friday.

Terry and Ledley King are definitely out, David Beckham seems unlikely to be involved and Michael Owen's participation is open to question too given he is set to miss Newcastle's Premier League bow at Bolton.

Still McClaren has every reason to be substantially more optimistic than he was four months ago.

Coming off the back of a draw in Israel and an unconvincing win over Andorra, when England's travelling army called for his head after just 15 minutes, McClaren has stabilised the situation pretty effectively.

Certainly, in a B team win over Albania, a home draw with Brazil and a clinical victory in Estonia, there was no sign of McClaren's players turning against him, as had been suggested in some quarters.

In fact, for all the talk of England failing to reach their first major finals since the 1994 World Cup, McClaren's team are in a position of strength, with four points from two September home games against Israel and Russia required to keep their qualification hopes on track.

Of course, McClaren will be looking for a maximum haul from England's first competitive fixtures at the new Wembley.

But, as he looks back on the torrid reception he received on that awful night in Barcelona, he believes his team have emerged a stronger force than they were when he succeeded Sven-Goran Eriksson 12 months ago.

McClaren said: 'Sometimes you have to go through bad times.

'They can bring you together and I just felt after that period in March there was a definite reaction, which was reflected in the performances and results of the last three games.

'In times like that, it is about believing in ourselves, believing in what we were doing and what we were trying to achieve.

'It is about sticking to the preparation that we know and making sure we get the results. You are going to get bad times and adversity.

'But going through it, you learn a lot, not just about yourself but the players around you.

'I firmly believe we go into the next year in a stronger position than we were a year ago.

'There is a great determination amongst the players and staff to make sure we create a successful England team that qualifies for Euro 2008. The fans deserve it.'