Rooney and Shevchenko hold the keys to the fate of England and Ukraine

The Three Lions talisman is set to make his return from suspension but the co-hosts have been left sweating on the fitness of their star striker ahead of the vital Group D clash
James Goldman
 In Donetsk

My time is now. That is the simple message conveyed in Wayne Rooney’s latest viral advertising campaign. England does not have to wait long to find out if the Manchester United forward delivers on his pronouncement. They simply cannot afford for him to be wrong.

Even after the thrilling comeback against Sweden, the Three Lions' margin for error against co-hosts Ukraine is minimal. Defeat will send them spiralling out of a tournament which began with expectations set at a record low, but successive positive results, combined with the return of their talisman, has seen optimism return to familiar levels.

Much of the inflated sense of hope is based on Rooney’s availability, the striker having served the two-game ban handed down for an act of almost unrivalled crassness during England’s final qualifier against Montenegro last October.

Arriving late to the party is nothing new to Rooney. At the 2006 World Cup in Germany his metatarsal injury dominated and largely overshadowed England’s preparations. Underprepared and overburdened, the only mark he made was on Ricardo Carvalho’s thigh – another act of foolish impetuosity which yielded another red card.


26 AGE
Manchester United CLUB Dynamo Kiev
199 GOALS 326
74 INTL CAPS 109

Despite history pointing to Rooney being the owner of a somewhat suspect temperament, both his manager, Roy Hodgson, and captain, Steven Gerrard, seemed comparatively relaxed about the prospect of the 26-year-old potentially losing his cool in the heat of Donbass Arena on Tuesday.

Hodgson said: "I am not concerned about Wayne going over the top. It is a good point to make but I am sure other people apart from myself will be keen to remind him what we want is a good team performance.

"We want him to help us win a game of football. I have been very impressed with his attitude in training and I have no fears about him.

"People say he may be ring rusty but from what I have seen he is every bit as sharp as when he played his last game for Manchester United."

In his capacity as skipper, a role he has carried out with distinction thus far, would Gerrard impart any wisdom or offer any sage words of advice to his fellow Liverpudlian? Not a bit of it.

"I’m not going to tell Wayne not to be fired up for this game. That's what Wayne Rooney is all about, pressing and being aggressive in the right way and being a top player," he said.

"The reason that he's world class is because of what he's shown up until today but obviously we need him on the pitch.

"Any team in which Wayne Rooney is involved, needs him out there playing and he's aware of that."

While England’s build-up has largely centred on the return of their talisman, Ukraine’s has been almost exclusively concerned with the fitness of theirs. Andriy Shevchenko’s knee injury, which flared up against France, has sparked a will-he won’t-he saga that has angered coach Oleg Blokhin.

"He's world class because of what he's shown up until today, we need him on the pitch."

- Steven Gerrard on Wayne Rooney

Only after a prolonged line of questioning he conceded that his star man had a 50-50 chance of playing and was then riled further when asked why he thought Shevchenko had failed to make an impact during his time with Chelsea.

"Let's call Shevchenko and ask Shevchenko," he snapped. "I don't have only Shevchenko in my team. I don't look good in front of my players if I talk only about Sheva, his career and his private life.

"I have 22 other players. Stop asking about Shevchenko. The subject is closed. It's 50-50. I will make a decision tomorrow."

Try as they might to dress it up differently, both Blokhin and Hodgson know the fate of their teams are intrinsically linked to the performances of their headline hogging strikers.