London - England captain Wayne Rooney has
set his sights on winning the European Championship, buoyed by the belief that
the gap between his team and Europe's continental footballing elite has
narrowed considerably in the past few years.
Monday's 0-0 draw with Slovakia ensured
that England finished second in Group B behind Wales, potentially complicating
their route to the final as they are now in the same side of the draw as World
Cup winners Germany, defending European champions Spain and hosts France.
English FA chairman Greg Dyke had said
before the tournament that making the semi-finals or being eliminated at the
quarterfinal stage by "a good team" would be considered a success,
but Rooney has set his sights considerably higher.
"We are here and we want to win
it," England's all-time leading goal scorer told reporters.
"Whether it happens remains to be
seen, but we're not going to say that getting to the quarter-finals will be a
sign of progress. I believe we are better than that."
England have not got past the quarterfinals
in their last three European Championships and failed to make it out of the
group stage at the World Cup in 2014, but Rooney sees cause for optimism this
"If this was four years ago and you
were saying you have to play France, Spain and Germany you would have been
worried," he added.
"I think the gap has changed, and not
just with ourselves, but with the likes of Wales. The gap to get to those teams
is not as big."
Manager Roy Hodgson's men are aiming for
their first major international title since the 1966 World Cup, but will have
to find a way past an inspired Iceland in the round of 16 game on Monday. They
could face France for a spot in the last four.
Hodgson took six strikers to France, but
his team have struggled to turn dominance into goals, scoring three times in
three group games and winning only one.
Despite the team's struggles in the final
third, Rooney, who has been pulling the strings from a deeper midfield
position, said the talent in the side meant he felt less pressure to deliver.
"I have always gone into a tournament
thinking if I don't play at my best I cannot see us winning it," said the
player who burst on to the international stage as an 18-year old with four
goals at Euro 2004.
Rooney has since failed to make a telling
impact at the continental championship and though he is yet to open his account
in France, he is pleased that the England squad have the talent to ease the
burden of expectation on his shoulders.
"I have come into this tournament and
we have several players capable of doing magical things. We have five or six
match winners in our team and I cannot say we have always had that," he