Euro Moments: Wayne Rooney bursts onto the international stage at Euro 2004
Four goals in two games had the English press wondering just how good this boy was
Wayne Rooney celebrates in front of the England fans after scoring against Croatia during Euro 2004. Photo: Getty Images
Before we start, let’s rewind. Yes, we’ve already gone back 12 years to Euro 2004 but while we’re at it let’s go back just a little further.
It’s October 2002. October 19th, 2002, to be precise. Wayne Rooney is sprung from the bench by David Moyes as Everton are drawing 1-1 with Arsenal at Goodison Park with 10 minutes to play. Those 10 minutes are tense, neither team wants to concede.
Then, 28 seconds before full time Rooney picks the ball up 30 yards from goal and unleashes a rasping, right-footed effort into the top left corner of David Seaman’s net to snatch a 2-1 win for the home side. He is just 16. He looks as if he’s 26 and has been playing at the top level for years. England’s great white hope has been born.
Fast forward to where we should be – June, 2004. Wayne Rooney is now a household name in English football and is being heavily linked with a multi-million pound deal to Manchester United. He’s still only 18 years of age and is set to play in his first major tournament for England – the European Championships in Portugal.
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side have suffered late heartbreak in their opening game. Two Zinedine Zidane goals in the final two minutes gave France all three points and left England in the position of needing to beat Switzerland and Croatia to advance.
Eriksson decides to stick with his young starlet for the crucial Switzerland game, starting him up front alongside Michael Owen.
And Rooney soon repays him for the loyalty.
After just 23 minutes a trademark David Beckham cross-field pass found Owen inside the box on the right-hand side. The Liverpool striker chested it down and picked out the head of Rooney in the six yard box, the 18-year-old rising to nod home, put England 1-0 up and become the youngest scorer ever at a European Championships.
But he wasn’t finished there. With 15 minutes to go Darius Vassell chased down a long ball, outmuscling the Swiss defence and laying it into the path of Rooney.
The Everton striker cut into the box on his right foot before flashing a low shot towards the near post of Jörg Stiel. The ball cannoned off the post, hit Stiel and rebounded into the net but it was Rooney’s goal.
Steven Gerrard would add a third late on but this was Rooney’s moment and he was named man of the match.
England’s fate came down to their final group match against Croatia where they needed to win to advance to the quarter-finals. Could Rooney step up and do it again?
The answer was yes. After Paul Scholes had cancelled out Niko Kovac’s opener, the ball came to Rooney 30 yards from goal, right on the stroke of half time.
Shifting it forward and onto his right foot he let rip a powerful shot into the far corner of the Croatian net to send England into the break 2-1 up.
Just over 20 minutes after half time he was at it again.
Receiving the ball deep in the England half, and with the Croatian line of defence pushed forward to the halfway line, Rooney ran at them.
A quick one-two with Owen allowed him to break through the Croatian ranks and bear down on goal before coolly slotting home.
Croatia managed to pull one back five minutes later but Frank Lampard made sure of the England victory late on. Rooney was again named man of the match.
England would go out in typically English controversial fashion in the quarter-finals when they lost to Portugal on penalties.
Rooney was forced off after 27 minutes with a broken foot and the loss proved too much for England.
Sven’s charges were going home but there was no doubting that the world had very much taken notice of Wayne Rooney.
Two months later he joined Manchester United for £30 million and The Guardian published an article entitled “Is Wayne Rooney the next Pele?”
The whirlwind career of the boy from Croxteth had well and truly begun.