Following a draw with France and victory over Sweden, the English national team are in a good position to qualify for the quarter-finals. However, Russia went in to their final game with the same number of points a couple of nights ago but after an unlikely defeat against Greece, were knocked out. England aren’t home and dry yet.
Thankfully for them, England will have Wayne Rooney in the starting line-up for their final group stage game against the Ukraine. The timing couldn’t be better. Having done most of the hard work already and getting by without their best player, thanks to a late winning goal from Danny Welbeck against Sweden, England fans and the press are made up that Rooney comes back in time to sure up qualification.
Alan Smith, The Telegraph: Rooney is special. By the sound of it, leaving him out never entered Hodgson’s head. The 26 year-old’s return should certainly help England to play between the lines a little better. For defenders or midfielders previously struggling for a pass, then, Rooney can make the difference with the angles he makes. He doesn’t always have to be in loads of space either. You know he can receive the ball under pressure. You know his technique won’t let him down. hether it’s a one-touch lay-off or something more intricate, Rooney’s involvement can make the side more patient in possession, simply because he offers the extra pass.
Kenny Dalglish, The Mirror: The return of Wayne Rooney to their side against Ukraine will be a huge boost to their chances at Euro 2012. I have heard some people saying that too much importance is being placed on the return of Rooney after suspension. Really? Let me tell you something: Rooney has few peers in the world game. And he has the ability to make the contribution in Donetsk on Tuesday night that will get England over the line and into the last eight. Rooney has every ingredient you need to be a great player and one of the most important of those is that he has retained his love of playing football. He has got everything.
Rio Ferdinand, The Sun: This is what Wazza loves. When it’s a crunch game and he has to do the business it doesn’t worry him at all. t is what being a world-class player is all about, you’re supposed to enjoy the big occasions and do your best work. It hasn’t always gone right for Wayne in the past in tournaments for different reasons like injury and getting sent off. But I know he has no fears about the fact he can do the job and do it well. He knows how good he is and what he is capable of doing and that he is a very gifted footballer.
The biggest talking up hasn’t come from the fans or the media though, but the England manager himself, comparing Rooney with Pele!
“If you look back through the years, if you take Pele for example, he was capable of producing his very best football when it really mattered to help Brazil win World Cups,” he said. “Let’s hope that Wayne Rooney can start to do that for us on Tuesday night and then, if we win, who knows? If Wayne can produce his best, then he can help us keep going even further.”
No pressure then eh?
England came in to this tournament for the first time in as long as I can remember with little to no expectation put on their shoulders. The squad is full of players from Liverpool, who had a dire season, there are several injuries, some of the best players got left at home, and following disappointing tournament after disappointing tournament, it’s finally seemed to hit people that England just aren’t that good. The “golden generation” is in its 30s now and they never managed to do the business, so why would this rabble?
However, a draw against France and scraping a win against Sweden, coupled with Rooney’s return, has raised expectations. I’m confident England will progress out of the groups and after missing out on the first two games, I’m sure Rooney will be fired up to have a good game, but you can’t help but imagine the alternative.
Rooney comes back in to the team, having not played a game of football for over a month, and isn’t as sharp has he might need to be. England play Ukraine, who know a win for them is enough to see them through to the quarters, and undoubtedly will be playing with more urgency.
Having got the results without Rooney, if they fail to get the required result with Rooney, who’s going to get the blame? Some might question Hodgson’s decision to change a winning team, pretending that they didn’t think that Rooney should walk straight back in to the starting line-up. Some might sensibly claim that England weren’t ever certain of getting out of the group in the first place. But you just know that the buck will stop with Rooney. He might even get wound up that England are losing, do something silly, and a referee will be all to glad to put his name in the book, or worse.
Am I exaggerating? Three out of four England penalty takers missed at the 2006 World Cup, but this country blamed England’s exit on Cristiano Ronaldo, for being one of five Portuguese players complaining to the ref about Rooney’s stamp. More reasonably but still ridiculous, England fans made effigies of David Beckham following the 1998 World Cup after his red card against Argentina. It was 2-2 when Beckham got sent off and it was 2-2 at full-time, yet again they failed on a penalty shoot-out (Batty and Ince missing) but it was the United’s man fault.
United have enjoyed great success the season following these tournaments. I certainly won’t complain about the booing opposition every week inspiring Beckham to help us win the Treble in 1998-1999 and Ronaldo to our first title in four years in 2006-2007. However, I’d be much happier to see Rooney get a goal or two tonight, maybe set one up for Welbeck too, and leave the scapegoating for someone else. Maybe one of those bloody Liverpool players!