Wayne Rooney is determined to make a point as well as take a point when he returns from suspension to spearhead England’s bid to reach the Euro 2012 quarter-finals against Ukraine today.
England need only a draw in a tricky final Group D game against the co-hosts to book their place in the last eight, but while Rooney’s priority will be making sure England get the result they need to progress, the 26-year-old Manchester United striker is also keen to atone for his failure to shine at recent major tournaments.
Rooney’s explosive entrance to international soccer at Euro 2004 remains the highpoint of his England career, which has been characterized by serial disappointment ever since.
He was sent off as England bowed out at the quarter-final stage of the 2006 World Cup, before flopping four years later in South Africa, a tournament where he had been tipped to shine.
It has left Rooney with a sense of unfinished business as he prepares to spearhead England’s attack against Ukraine.
“I think my last goal in a tournament was at Euro 2004, but I feel I’m a better player now and I’m capable of more, so I’m hoping I can play and score on Tuesday. I feel there is more to come from me,” Rooney said. “I set myself high standards. I work hard to better my game and score goals. In international tournaments I haven’t been good enough. It’s something I hope I can put right. I’m not going to say I will, because you never know what’s going to happen, but hopefully if I can do that it will give the team a good chance of going far in the competition.”
An older and wiser Rooney is philosophical about the disappointments that dogged his displays in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
“As a player you have bad moments, but I think sometimes you have to go through those moments to experience the good moments,” he said. “Those things that happened in the past — I don’t want them to happen. No one wants them to happen, but they happened and you have to get on with it. I’m hoping I can do my best and help the team be successful. I’m hoping that if I can play well and score goals, then we’ll have a chance.”
At Euro 2004, an 18-year-old Rooney terrorized opposition defenses and scored four goals, before limping off injured in the quarter-finals.
The England striker now believes his youthful fearlessness has been replaced by a more calculating soccer brain.
“In 2004, I was 18 and you probably don’t know the game as well as you think you do, so you’re playing on instinct a lot of the time. There’s a rawness, but the older you get you have to change your game,” he said.
Since his sending off against Montenegro in October last year, when he inexplicably lashed out at defender Miodrag Dzudovic, Rooney has steered largely clear of disciplinary strife.
However, he insists he has made no conscious effort to improve his behavior and remains baffled by his moment of madness in Montenegro.
“I’ve been asked a few times what happened [in Montenegro] and I honestly can’t explain it,” he said “It was similar to the red card in 2006 [at the World Cup]. It happened. It’s not something I set out to do. I didn’t think: ‘I’m going to kick this player.’ It happened. I understood straightaway that it was a mistake and a red card. I’ve had to take my punishment. I’ve no complaints with the ban. So I’m just happy now that I’m finally available to play and hopefully do well.”