Wayne Rooney's England career ended a second time with a first; relief not to score.

Whenever the striker touched the ball after coming on in the 58th minute, however far he was from goal in a 120th appearance, fans shouted "Shoot!"

The best chance fell to the 33-year-old Rooney in the second minute of stoppage time against the United States at Wembley yesterday. Primed in the penalty area, Rooney turned to shoot, only to be denied by US goalkeeper Brad Guzan's low save.

There was a wry smile from Rooney, whose England career ended with a record 53 goals. It didn't matter for the result because a new generation of players had already provided the attack that secured a 3-0 win in the friendly against the country Rooney now calls home.


"Another yard, it would have been in ... and it would have been great," Rooney said. "But in some ways, it's great, because if I did score, it would have opened another whole lot of debate whether that goal should count or not. In some ways, it's probably better it didn't go in."

The decision to hand Rooney a final 120th cap split opinion and angered many former internationals, including Peter Shilton, Stuart Pearce and Paul Ince. Rooney has insisted he would never have agreed to a comeback game had it meant he equalled or surpassed Shilton's record of 125 caps but that is unlikely to stop the debate over his inclusion.

Shilton claimed Rooney's recall was "devaluing England", while Pearce said it "cheapened an international cap" and Ince described it as "farcical".

Such was the debate stirred by England's most capped outfield player being recalled after two years off the team to have this ceremonial farewell, 15 years after his debut.

Rooney defended his inclusion by saying: "Everyone is entitled to their opinions. The most important thing is, speaking with the FA, we both felt it was right. The players I spoke to and the FA have spoken to, agree and think it is right. As a country, obviously we haven't done anything like this before.

"We all know a lot of the older players, players who won the World Cup, weren't treated as well as they should have been. It hasn't taken away from what [England coach] Gareth Southgate and the players are trying to do. Hopefully in a few years, some of the players will be getting a similar night for their achievements. It was a great touch for me."

By the time Rooney entered the game as former Manchester United teammate Jesse Lingard's replacement in the 58th minute, England had done enough for the victory. Lingard and Trent Alexander-Arnold scored within 104 seconds of each other in the first half. As England's record scorer bid farewell, Alexander-Arnold was joined by striker Callum Wilson in getting their first goals for England.

But this was Rooney's night.

England proclaimed it the "return of the king," celebrating a player who thrilled so often in the England jersey but couldn't inspire the country to a first title since 1966.

"He has been brilliant, the time he has given to all the players," said Southgate. "He had some lovely touches, a couple of really exquisite through balls and we were a yard to the left of Brad Guzan from a fairytale ending."

The start to the night was memorable enough. In front of 68,155 fans, Rooney entered the field before the match accompanied with his four boys, carrying Cass, who was born in February.

"It's great memories for when they are older looking back," Rooney said, before going into the dressing room to deliver a final speech as an England player.

The stakes will be more meaningful on Monday (NZT) in the next game at Wembley. After leaving the field, England learned that Croatia beat Spain 3-2 in the Uefa Nations League ahead of their trip to London.

England or Croatia have a chance to advance to the Final Four tournament if either can win. A draw would allow Spain to advance from league A4 to the finals of Europe's new national-team competition.

"If we are going to be ruthless, we have to do that right the way through the game," Southgate said.

Rooney is optimistic. When England reached their first World Cup semifinal in 28 years in July, Rooney was a spectator from afar.

"Seeing how they're working and how they're improving has been great for me," Rooney said.

- AP