Rooney is the key to England breaking their quarter-final jinx
The closer the World Cup gets, the more nervous England fans have become about injury to star forward Wayne Rooney, who has thrived in a central attacking role for Manchester United after Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid.
The nation held its collective breath when Rooney limped out of United’s Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich. One men’s magazine ran a spoof article on how to protect him ahead of the World Cup which featured a Rooney-lookalike wrapped head-to-toe in cotton wool, then bundled up in bubble wrap and finally wearing a suit of medieval armour.
The nervousness surrounding Rooney’s condition stems from a genuine belief that England could do very well at this World Cup.
Up until now they have been, essentially, a quarter-final team, unable to overcome a fear of penalties and knockout situations. But after coming through the qualifying campaign with flying colours, and with a reasonable draw in Group C, there is a quiet confidence that, in Fabio Capello, England have a coach who can provide the mental strength needed to take the team beyond the last eight.
Plenty of questions remain though. Can the injured Ashley Cole, Aaron Lennon and Rio Ferdinand prove their fitness ahead of the finals? Will any of the possible central-defensive reserves – Ledley King, Wes Brown, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka – be fit? Who will start in goal: the inexperienced Robert Green or the ageing David James? Will Bobby Zamora’s displays for Fulham in Europe be rewarded? And can John Terry recover his form after losing the captaincy following tabloid revelations about his private life?
Amid it all, Capello has maintained a dignified calm. He has invited the injured David Beckham to join the squad in South Africa but his hospitality is unlikely to extend to the circus of wives and girlfriends that dogged England in Germany four years ago.
The recession has slowed the commercial bandwagon that usually accompanies England before major tournaments, providing a low-key build-up with few wild claims about winning the World Cup. Instead there is a quiet confidence that England can thrive in adversity – assuming Rooney stays fit.
The view from England
“I feel optimistic for as long as Rooney is on the field. He is capable of being a great catalyst. England don’t have as many top-class players as Spain but they don’t have as many bad ones either. The second factor is Capello – he’s been beastly to the players who had got used to being spoiled. The English have two phobias: penalty kicks and hot weather. As soon as they get to South Africa and realise how cool it is, they will feel at home and it will have an energising effect.”
Patrick Barclay, The Times
“I’ve seen England prepare slavishly for World Cups since 1982. All those preparations went swimmingly but I’ve never seen anything like this. Every day there’s a twist in the tale, with so many injuries, and the John Terry situation. In a strange way, it might work to our advantage as we’ve always been a nation of great underdogs, so I’m reasonably optimistic. It’s a winter World Cup, which will help us, and Capello’s winning mentality is a huge factor.”
Martin Tyler, Sky Sports commentator, on loan to ESPN USA for the World Cup