Wayward Rooney dumps Ukraine out of finals on night to remember
AFTER A day of scorching heat in Donetsk, the temperature had dropped significantly by the time last night’s match kicked off. For England, however, it felt like a heatwave as Ukraine opened by attacking at pace in numbers and without respite.
Worries about Wayne Rooney’s boiling point immediately took second place to concerns that the co-hosts, whose aim in the tournament was to advance beyond the group stage, were turning the stadium into a cauldron in which England’s hopes would evaporate. But it was Rooney who, three minutes into the second half, produced the headed goal that rewarded his team-mates for refusing to yield.
Every time the home team had the ball in England’s half, which was the case for almost the entire opening half-hour, the noise rose from the grandstands like a wall constructed in one of the city’s steel plants. The chants of England’s heavily outnumbered supporters were swamped, while the white-shirted defenders could not hear themselves think. It took several fine interventions by John Terry to prevent Ukraine from capitalising on their display of sustained aggression.
And yet, despite the almost incessant pressure, Rooney should have given England the lead even earlier. It was just before the half-hour when he rose to meet Ashley Young’s cross but could not guide his header inside the post.
For all Roy Hodgson’s reassurances, there had been a fear that, restricted to a mere 37 minutes of international football in the past eight months, Rooney might lack sharpness or react with the sort of explosive energy that has damaged England in the past. This happened most recently last October when his kick at a Montenegrin opponent in the final qualifying match cost him his place in last week’s France and Sweden fixtures.
Better that it should be the former, and there was a definite ring-rustiness to that first header.
England’s attack were on the shortest of rations in the early stages, but there was still the occasional subtle linking touch to Young or Danny Welbeck from the returning No 10, on whose shoulders such a weight of responsibility had been heaped, not least by his manager.
It is rare for a manager to give an individual player the sort of advance publicity which Roy Hodgson granted Rooney before last night’s match. The manager seemed to have decided that the most effective way to get Rooney playing at his best is to tell him, via repeated public pronouncements, that the team’s fortunes depend on him.
His return even had the manager mentioning him in the same breath as Pele, who, said Hodgson, was capable of producing his very best football when it was most needed, helping Brazil to win World Cups.