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Gareth Southgate has defended his under-fire captain Wayne Rooney after the player was booed by portions of the Wembley crowd during the uninspiring 2-0 victory over Malta.
The Manchester United attacker was played in a deep midfield role by the caretaker manager and, as with his efforts to play there for his club, Rooney looked far from assured.
Boos rang out when he was announced in the line-up before kick-off while sections of the crowd made clear their discontent when he fired a shot well wide late on.
However, Southgate insists his captain is worthy of a place in the team and can't understand why he is the target of displeasure.
“If you look at the number of games and his goalscoring feats for England … I don’t quite understand that [booing],” he said. “I presented him with a cap in the week for becoming the record outfield cap-holder with his country and it’s been fascinating to get an insight into his world over the last 10 days.
“Every debate focuses on him. The onus on him is enormous. The criticism of him is, at times, unfair. But he ploughs on and plays with pride, captaining his country with pride.
"I always look back to the Terrys, the Lampards, the Ashley Coles … in their time with England they took an enormous amount of criticism, but, if you look at their caps, they kept turning out and putting themselves on the line.
“Others have not put themselves forward and withdrawn from squads when the going has got tough. Those guys put their neck on the block and played for their country again and again. I don’t understand [the booing].
"But that seems to be the landscape. I have no idea how that is expected to help him.”
Utd manager Jose Mourinho made clear in his first press conference that he didn't consider Rooney to be a midfielder, although he did play him in a deeper role a couple of times this season, but Southgate differs in his analysis.
“Look, José will have his opinion on what’s right for his team,” he continued. “I had to pick a team to get a result today. Wayne’s experience and his leadership have been crucial throughout this week, not just today. I wanted to get Dele Alli higher up the pitch as a link between midfield and the forwards. He got his goal and was disappointed not to get a second, for sure. That team and system suited us today.
“Between Wayne and Jordan Henderson their job was to control that area of the field. To link between the lines. When you look back at the Slovakia game, there were times when that link wasn’t there.
"We felt it was important today, and Dele as a No10 helped that, as well as Jesse Lingard coming in off the line. They were there to control the game, and make sure we didn’t get caught on the counter. We knew we’d have a lot of the ball. It was a game where we’d dictate the tempo.”
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