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May 26, 2017

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Man United's Rooney to lead England against San Marino

LONDON -- Unfulfilled in an England jersey, Wayne Rooney believes he is finally ready to translate his stellar Manchester United form onto the international stage.

A scoring rate of 29 goals in 76 internationals has failed to satisfy the critics who say Rooney has underperformed for England, particularly at major tournaments when the pressure on him intensifies.

However, he has looked close to his best form for United in recent games while playing in an unusual attacking-midfield position. And being handed the captaincy for Friday's World Cup qualifier against San Marino has given him extra motivation ahead of his first match for England since the European Championship earlier this year.

"Am I unfulfilled at international level? That is fair," Rooney said Thursday. "I haven't been at my best for England and that is something I'm desperate to put right.

"I think us as a team and as a country, we need to be more successful and better in tournament football."

Rooney has already captained England — in a friendly against Brazil in Doha in 2009 — but this is the first time he has been handed the armband for a competitive international.

What he describes as a "great honor" comes a day after Rooney's wife, Coleen, announced on Twitter that the couple were expecting their second child.

Rooney takes over as captain on a temporary basis because regular skipper Steven Gerrard is serving a one-match suspension and another midfielder, Frank Lampard, was ruled out on Thursday with a knee injury.

That could even lead to Rooney being deployed deeper by coach Roy Hodgson, a role he played for United in last week's Champions League match at FC Basel and in Sunday's Premier League game at Newcastle.

On both occasions, Rooney set up goals in United victories and worked as hard defensively as going forward, showing he is fully recovered from a gashed leg that sidelined him for a month.

With San Marino joint bottom of the FIFA rankings, along with Bhutan and Turks and Caicos Islands, Rooney won't have a better chance to rack up the goals.

He is currently England's joint-eighth highest scorer but a double on Friday would see him climb to fifth place on the all-time list above Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer, who all scored 30 international goals.

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