England forward Emile Heskey believes Wayne Rooney can fire Fabio Capello’s team to World Cup glory in South Africa.
For the second time in his England career, Heskey is the foil for one of the world’s best strikers and the Aston Villa star is convinced his partnership with Rooney can be even better than the relationship he established with Michael Owen.
It was Heskey’s muscular presence that allowed Owen to thrive during Sven Goran Eriksson’s reign. After a spell in international exile, Heskey was brought back into the fold by Fabio Capello because the England coach felt his selfless style would give Rooney room to flourish.
Capello’s decision has already paid dividends. Rooney’s goal in Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Kazakhstan was the Manchester United player’s eighth in six games for his country, while Heskey netted his second in two matches.
Heskey has never been one to blow his own trumpet but he is willing to express his admiration of Rooney and makes a convincing case for his team-mate to make a major impact in next year’s World Cup finals.
“Wayne Rooney is a great player. He has shown it on many occasions for his club and for England as well,” Heskey said.
“He is up there with the best in terms of his ability. He can play in different positions and do great jobs. That shows how good he is.”
Heskey and Rooney have one final chance to fine-tune their partnership before heading off for their close-season holidays when England host Andorra on Wednesday.
Group Six leaders England are already within touching distance of the finals and a victory at Wembley would all but cement their place, but Heskey insists there is no chance of complacency creeping into the squad.
“No, we’re not thinking about South Africa. The lads are very focused on the games. We want to keep going,” Heskey said.
“It’s going to be a difficult game after coming back from Kazakhstan on a long flight but we are very focused on getting the right result.
“The lads are really focused on the game. It’s the last game (of the season), and it’s at home so we are very confident and set on what we have to achieve.”
Heskey has extra motivation to help England achieve their goal of qualification after failing to make the squad for the 2006 World Cup.
The former Liverpool targetman’s international adventure seemed to be over when he was cast adrift by Eriksson, but he insists he never gave up hope.
“No, never,” he said. “You just have to focus on playing well for your club. Once you’ve done that, you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I got a taste of it, and I’m enjoying it now. I want to go to every tournament with England.”
While Heskey is enjoying his combination with Rooney, he could get a chance to rekindle his relationship with Owen as well if reports that the Newcastle star is set for a move to Villa prove true.
“It would be nice. Obviously Michael is a great player. He has shown that on many occasions,” Heskey said. “He’s been knocked and always got back up and performed.”
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