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EURO 2012: Rooney returns as England face Ukraine test
KRAKOW, Poland: Roy Hodgson is looking forward to unleashing the full force of Wayne Rooney for the first time in his England managerial career on Tuesday as the talismanic striker returns against Ukraine.
Rooney has yet to start for England under Hodgson, appearing only as a substitute in a 1-0 friendly victory over Belgium at Wembley and missing the opening two games of Euro 2012 because of suspension.
However the Manchester United star will return to the starting line-up for what is certain to be a tense finale to Group D in Donetsk, where England will look to reach the last eight at the expense of the co-hosts.
Rooney’s return gives England a further boost to morale following Friday’s pulsating 3-2 win over Sweden, when Hodgson’s side fought back from 2-1 down to claim a dramatic victory through Danny Welbeck’s superb late winner.
For Rooney, Tuesday represents yet another opportunity for the 26-year-old to showcase his talents on a world stage following disappointing performances in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
The United star has maintained a low profile since England’s arrival in Poland but is said to be flying in training.
Hodgson was anxious to dispel the impression that Rooney’s eagerness to enter the tournament fray could be a problem if not properly harnessed.
“No, he hasn’t,” Hodgson said when he was asked by reporters if Rooney had been “like a caged animal.”
“He’s just been a very, very good professional. His training performances have been first class. He’s been first class around the place,” Hodgson said.
“He’s been encouraging all the players and backing the players up. Of course he wants to play football.”
Hodgson could not disguise his delight however at the prospect of being able to deploy the most potent attacking weapon in a relatively youthful arsenal that includes Welbeck and Andy Carroll, the powerful Liverpool striker who impressed with a superbly taken header against the Swedes.
“He’s a quality player. I would suggest he’s a world-class player. I’m always wary of giving players epithets but I think his ability is a bit special.
“You’re lucky if you are a manager of a national team to have players of that quality available for selection.
“I’ve been a bit unlucky not to have him available in the same way I’ve been unlucky not to have Frank Lampard available.
“At least I’m getting one of those two players back and hopefully it will make life easier for us going into the next game.”
Hodgson also confirmed Rooney had recovered completely from the niggling injury he had carried towards the tail-end of the season which saw him rested for England’s friendly against Oslo.
“There’s been no vestige of that,” Hodgson said. “He’ll be raring to go and he’ll be anxious to make certain that his game when he gets back in the team is also as positive as the games that he’s been forced to sit out and watch.”
Hodgson has not divulged how he intends to tweak England’s line-up to accommodate Rooney but it is highly likely that either Welbeck or Carroll will be omitted to make way for the returning striker.
Welbeck’s delightful finish and all-round pace, as well as a growing understanding with his United team-mate Rooney, makes him the likelier starter.
Hodgson spoke admiringly of the 21-year-old youngster following the win over Sweden but sounded a note of caution.
“I would do well to encourage you not to put too much pressure on the lad,” he said. “I think he’s done pretty well to break into the team.
“But before we start building him up to knock him down, we should remember he’s got a lot of work to do, and a lot of time ahead.”
The other selection issue for Hodgson is on the flank, where Theo Walcott’s game-changing performance from the substitutes bench against Sweden should see him get the nod ahead of James Milner. -- AFP