The Prodigal Son hath returned. Wayne Rooney, arguably the most talented English footballer in a generation, is set to return for England’s final group match; against Ukraine. Rooney missed the first two matches due to suspension, and while forwards Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll both scored against Sweden, Manager Roy Hodgson has said that Rooney will return to the starting line-up tonight.
Rooney’s confidence has been sky-high in the lead up to his return. The Manchester United forward has stated his belief that England can go a long way at EURO 2012. ‘We are hard to beat now. If we keep doing that and keep working hard then there’s no reason we can’t go really far and be in with a shout of winning it’ he said.
While Rooney – by his own standards – was disappointing at the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, his last EURO appearance was in 2004, while still a teenager. Rooney scored four goals for England in Portugal, and was named in the team of the tournament.
Although England recorded a 3-2 win over Sweden, the team never looked entirely convincing – as opposed to the current form of tournament favourites Germany and Spain. Yet the return of Rooney could prove a catalyst for England, whose undeniable class will provide an enormous boost for the side.
England do have injury worries to deal with, chiefly that of Theo Walcott. Walcott’s performance off the bench against Sweden was immense – the Arsenal winger scored the equaliser, and later assisted Danny Welbeck’s back-heeled winner. Walcott’s preparation for the Ukraine match has been hampered by a hamstring injury, which may encourage Hodgson to again start James Milner on the right.
Ukraine’s Captain and talisman Andrily Shevchenko remains under an injury cloud as well, after suffering a kick to the same knee in both matches against France and Sweden. The loss of Shevchenko would severely dent the Quarter Final hopes of the co-hosts.
MUST-SEE: Polish model Natalia Siwiec. While Paraguayan stunner Larissa Riquelme won thousands of hearts during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Natalia has caught the eye of many a fan (and camera-man) in the stands in Poland. Yet the model has said that being dubbed “the Polish Larissa Riquelme” is demeaning – ‘please do not compare us’.
EYEBROW-RAISER: Never mind the Global Financial Crisis, says the Portugese FA. Reports have said that Portugal’s daily hotel bill is a staggering €33,000, while 2008 champions Spain are spending a mere €4,000. The Portuguese press say Cristiano Ronaldo is in a private suite, with bespoke requirements added to the hotel including “giant plasma screens” plus “four types of sauna”. Hot places, cold places…
Ronaldo also has two personal body guards, to ensure ‘total peace of mind’.
REASONS TO WATCH: Rooney is back! England, France and Ukraine can all still qualify for the Quarter Finals.
TONIGHT: England needs just a point tonight against Ukraine to progress to the next round. Conversely, the co-hosts need to defeat the English if they are to make the Quarter Finals. The return of Rooney will be massive for the Three Lions. Rooney scored 35 goals for Manchester United last season, and forged a strong attacking partnership with fellow England players Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young – a combination Hodgson will no doubt look to take advantage of. This is likely to see Andy Carroll dropping to the bench, even though the Liverpool forward impressed with his goal and work-rate against Sweden.
If England is able to hold onto the ball for more than three passes – something the side struggled with against France and Sweden – then it should defeat Ukraine with little duress. While Ukraine played admirably in its 2-1 win over Sweden, the French pulled the co-hosts apart with their swift passing and movement.
Expect an improvement in the England side with the return of Rooney. They should beat Ukraine (2-0).
Tonight’s other match sees France take on Sweden. Following their 3-2 loss to England, the Swedes are eliminated from the tournament, and have only pride to play for. France has all but sealed its passage to the Quarter Finals after a draw with England and a win over Ukraine. Like England, France can settle for a draw tonight, although it is unlikely Manager Laurent Blanc will send out his side to merely look for a draw.
The French were impressive against Ukraine, and should keep their momentum going for the tournament, and will beat the shattered Swedes (2-1).