LEGENDARY striker Sir Geoff Hurst is predicting England will reach the latter stages of the European Championships despite the ineligibility of talismanic striker Wayne Rooney.
The Manchester United striker, who has bagged 28 goals in 74 appearances for his country, is suspended for the opening two matches against France and Sweden after being sent off against Montenegro in their final qualifying tie.
Rooney came off the substitute’s bench as Roy Hodgson’s side beat Belgium in their final warm-up match before their campaign kicks off next Monday against France.
But Hurst, who became the nation’s hero in the 1966 World Cup when he netted a hat-trick in the 4-2 victory over West Germany in the final, expects the Three Lions to progress from Group D and perform well on the big stage.
He told The Star: “We will cope okay without Wayne [Rooney]. He is a big miss because he is an outstanding, world-class player but if you are going to be successful at a tournament, sometimes you have to do it without your best players.
“It is a squad of players who will be successful at a World Cup or a European Championships. Fifteen to 16 will play or come on as substitutes. It is those players who will win a tournament, not 11 players.
“You need to have other players who can come in and do the job if some of your other senior players are suspended or injured.”
Rooney will be available for selection for the final group encounter with Ukraine on Tuesday June 19.
Of England’s prospects, Hurst, who won 49 caps and scored 24 goals for his country before ending his career in the 1970s, said: “I don’t see why, if everything goes well, we can’t make the semi-finals at least. I believe that and there is no reason why we can’t do that if we get the luck of the draw.
“It is not an easy group but I think it would be hugely disappointing if we didn’t reach the quarter-finals.
“The first game is always important. The French are a good side who have not lost many games recently and they beat us in a friendly at Wembley not too long ago. They have got some very good players. The first game is nerve-wracking because you want to win it but you are mindful of not being beaten.
“It is about qualifying. Tactically you don’t want to get beaten so you approach it (the first game) with a little bit of reservation. It is key the first game. As you progress further in a tournament, you gradually improve.”
Dronfield-born Gary Cahill is ruled out of the competition after suffering a double fracture of his jaw in the win over Belgium.
See Friday’s Star for an eight-page preview of the Euros.