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Young primed to fill Rooney's void for England

Saturday - 6/9/2012, 12:27pm  ET

By ROB HARRIS
AP Sports Writer

KRAKOW, Poland (AP) - With five goals in seven games for England, Ashley Young could leave fans asking: Wayne who?

The winger has flourished alongside Wayne Rooney during his first season at Manchester United, providing creativity and flair as the team finished second in Premier League on goal difference. But with Rooney starting a two-match England ban on Monday in the team's European Championship opener against France, Young is poised to shift into the middle and take a supporting role, possibly behind another United teammate _ Danny Welbeck.

"I am feeling confident on the back of a few goals and assists," Young said Saturday. "There has been a lot talked about what I have to do in that role just off the striker. A lot of emphasis has been put on me. I thrive on the pressure."

And he thrives in that central role.

"It is an opportunity to run at defenders," he said. "That is what I am there to do. There is no better feeling when I do that."

Young has started in both of England's matches under coach Roy Hodgson, which were 1-0 victories. Liverpool striker Andy Carroll started against Norway, while Welbeck played in front of Young against Belgium.

"You could tell from our team shape in the first couple of games organization is going to be key," Young said.

Hodgson expects Young to be able to damage opponents at Euro 2012 after seeing him in both warm-up matches.

"Ashley Young has got in good positions, as we wanted him to do," Hodgson said. "We feel that, like with Wayne Rooney, Ashley is at his best when he gets behind the midfield and in front of the back players.

"The shape of the team is about having a reasonable amount of control. The more of that you have, the more you can find ways of hurting the opposition and get Ashley or Wayne in behind them."

Young has prospered on the field in the two years since failing to make the 2010 World Cup squad, securing a move from Aston Villa to United a year ago.

"He's tricky and finds himself in good areas and can nick a goal," said England midfielder Stewart Downing, a former Villa teammate. "So I think you can see in the two games he's played what his attributes are _ he can find a pass, score a goal and maybe now we have another player to play in that role as well as Rooney."

Young has played a part in more than half of England's last 20 goals.

"You can see with the run of games he's had and scoring a few goals that his confidence has grown," Downing said.

England flies on Sunday to the Ukrainian city of Donetsk to open its Euro 2012 campaign the following night against France. Midfielder James Milner and defender Martin Kelly were the only players to miss the final training session before leaving their base in Krakow, Poland. Milner has blisters on his feet, while Kelly has a virus.

But striker Jermain Defoe rejoined the squad on Saturday morning after flying home Thursday following the death of his father.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)