England record-holder Rooney abruptly ends international career

AP, Reuters

England record-scorer Wayne Rooney retired from international soccer on Wednesday after spurning an offer to return to the squad.

“I believe now is the time to bow out,” the former England captain said in a statement. “I will always remain a passionate England fan.”

A return to form since leaving Manchester United to go back to Everton in the offseason had seen England coach Gareth Southgate approach Rooney about returning for upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

But the 31-year-old striker has decided to focus on his club career, quitting England duty with a record 53 goals in 119 appearances — more than any other outfield player.

“It was great Gareth Southgate called me this week to tell me he wanted me back in the England squad for the upcoming matches. I really appreciated that,” Rooney said. “However, having already thought long and hard, I told Gareth that I had now decided to retire for good from international football.

“It is a really tough decision and one I have discussed with my family, my manager at Everton and those closest to me. Playing for England has always been special to me. Every time I was selected as a player or captain was a real privilege and I thank everyone who helped me.”

Rooney never progressed beyond the quarterfinals of a tournament with England and his struggles on the international stage often saw him cast as the fall guy for his country’s inability to come close to adding to its solitary title in the 1966 World Cup.

“One of my very few regrets is not to have been part of a successful England tournament side,” Rooney said. “Hopefully the exciting players Gareth is bringing through can take that ambition further and I hope everyone will get behind the team.

“One day the dream will come true and I look forward to being there as a fan — or in any capacity.”

Liverpool into CL group stage

Liverpool scored three goals in 12 dramatic first-half minutes, two of them from Emre Can, on its way to a hugely entertaining 4-2 win over Hoffenheim, which took it back to the Champions League group stage after a two-season absence on Wednesday night.

Portugal’s Sporting also went on the rampage, scoring four times in the last half hour to beat former European champion Steaua Bucharest, now known as FCSB, 5-1 away after it had been held 0-0 at home in the first leg.

Qarabag became the first team from Azerbaijan to reach the group stage when it qualified on away goals after losing 2-1 away to FC Copenhagen, while APOEL Nicosia and CSKA Moscow also went through.

Liverpool, 6-3 winner on aggregate, last played in the group stage in 2014-15 and its presence means the English Premier League will have five of the 32 teams after Manchester United qualified as Europa League winners.

There was a huge amount at stake in Wednesday’s games as teams who take part in the group stage receive a minimum fixed payment of ₡12.7 million ($15 million), with bonuses of ₡1.5 million per win and ₡500,000 for a draw.

Teams also receive money from the market pool, which can vary from anything between ₡1.4 million to more than ₡50 million depending on the size of the market in the club’s respective country.