England to ignore Rooney distractions

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PARIS, September 6 – England were among a number of fancied sides who began their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with handsome wins, but their trip to Switzerland on Tuesday comes amid a tabloid storm surrounding Wayne Rooney.The Manchester United striker made three goals in England’s 4-0 win at home to Bulgaria on Friday but damaging newspaper revelations on Sunday alleged he frequented a prostitute while his wife, Coleen, was pregnant.

It comes at an inopportune time for coach Fabio Capello, who is trying to right the England ship after their disappointing World Cup, but James Milner says Rooney will not be affected by the scandal.

"I think you want the best players out on the field and he’s obviously one of them. He showed that the other night," said the Manchester City midfielder.

"He’s a top, top player and you want to put out the strongest team possible."

England looked close to their impressive pre-World Cup form as they picked apart Bulgaria, but in Switzerland they face a team that has qualified for the last four major tournaments in succession.

There were few hiccups for the continent’s heavyweights as the qualifying competition for the jointly-hosted Ukraine-Poland tournament began in earnest on Friday.

Spain won 4-0 in Liechtenstein, beaten World Cup finalists the Netherlands put five unanswered goals past San Marino and Italy came from a goal down to defeat Estonia 2-1 in Tallinn.

Germany began their Group A campaign with a 1-0 win in Belgium, with Miroslav Klose netting his 53rd international goal as Joachim Loew’s side picked up from where they left off at the World Cup.

Azerbaijan visit Cologne on Tuesday and Loew says he expects Lukas Podolski, who had a quiet game in Brussels, to impress at his home stadium.

"Of course, you can see a player needs some time to find his rhythm again after a World Cup," said Loew. "I think that Lukas will find his form again."

Italy will expect to take maximum points from their game with habitual minnows the Faroe Islands in Florence.

The 2006 world champions were not at their best against Estonia but new coach Cesare Prandelli says he saw plenty of encouraging signs.

"Without a good footing you can’t go very far but it was more than just (Andrea) Pirlo and (Antonio) Cassano that pleased me — we’re becoming a team," he said. "We’ve rediscovered the ability to play football with courage."

The Netherlands, for whom new Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored a hat-trick against San Marino, take on Finland in Rotterdam in Group E.

One high-profile side who failed to impress in their opening qualifying fixture was France, who fell to a 1-0 defeat at home to Belarus in the absence of several key players through injury and suspension.

Les Bleus, European champions in 2000, now face a daunting trip to face Bosnia-Herzegovina and coach Laurent Blanc says his young side must not shirk the physical battles that are sure to await them in Sarajevo.

"We’ll have to increase our physical impact," said Blanc.

"We’re still a bit tender, the Bosnians will intimidate us and we’ll need to have the weapons to respond."

Belarus have never qualified for a major tournament but they could go clear at the top of Group D if they defeat Romania, who were held to a 1-1 draw in Albania in their group opener.

Portugal, who fell to Spain in the last 16 at the World Cup, visit Norway.

The Euro 2004 finalists shipped four goals in an extraordinary 4-4 draw at home to Cyprus on Friday, prompting centre-back Ricardo Carvalho to urge his team to tighten up defensively for the trip to Oslo.

"We have to be more compact, especially at the back," the Real Madrid defender told the UEFA website.

"We played well going forward but we’re normally more secure in defence."

With reigning world and European champions Spain playing Argentina in a friendly in Buenos Aires, Scotland can go top of Group I if they beat Liechtenstein in Glasgow and Lithuania fail to win in the Czech Republic.

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