Washington: England and Manchester United top goalscorer Wayne Rooney praised his homeland’s “fantastic” World Cup effort on Tuesday, cheering the buzz and belief their semi-final run in Russia has inspired.
Rooney appeared at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new $200 million home stadium of DC United, where the 32-year-old striker makes his Major League Soccer debut on Saturday against Vancouver.
“They are doing fantastic. Hopefully, we can get the win,” Rooney said. “It’s great. You see the atmosphere back home. There are billions watching it. Hopefully, we can get through and go on to the final.”
Manager Gareth Southgate’s England squad will face Croatia in a Wednesday semi-final for a berth in Sunday’s championship match against either France or Belgium.
“For the players and Gareth, I wish them massive good luck. They are making us all proud,” Rooney said. “Hopefully, they can get that one step further and get to the final and bring the Cup home.
“I’ve enjoyed all the buzz coming out of this. We’re enjoying it and we believe.”
DC United, who last won the MLS title in 2004, have the worst record in the league with two wins and five drawn from 14 matches. But there is renewed hope in Rooney and the new 20,000-seat Audi Field.
“I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to it,” Rooney said of Saturday’s match.
Rooney will make his move from Premier League side Everton official on Tuesday when the transfer period opens and he can sign a three-year MLS deal worth $13 million with DC United.
Rooney, wearing a black shirt with a DC United logo, thanked fans gathered at the facility.
“On the first day when I landed at Dulles airport, the reception you gave me was something I will never forget,” Rooney said.
“I’ve come here to help this team win, to move forward and, hopefully, in the next few years we can climb the table and win titles and bring trophies to this wonderful new stadium.”
With coach Southgate keeping his strategies close to his chest, a young team led by Harry Kane hopes to succeed where Gary Lineker, Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, David Beckham and Rooney failed.
England are ranked 12th in the world and Croatia 20th. The winners advance to Sunday’s final against France or Belgium, which also will be at Luzkniki Stadium.
Croatia lost their only previous semi-final match to hosts France in 1998. They beat Denmark in the round of 16 and hosts Russia in the quarter-finals this year, becoming only the second team with consecutive shoot-out wins in the same World Cup since Argentina defeated Yugoslavia and Italy in 1990.
“It won’t be easy for us,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said through a translator. “We will focus in the next few days to recover as much as possible. We will look for the best solutions ahead the match, considering we have a few players with minor issues after the match against Russia. It won’t be easy, but to get into the semi-finals it’s a new motive for us.”