Soccer

Wayne Rooney: Gifted Striker Not Enough to Propel England Deep into Euro 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 02:  Wayne Rooney of England in action during the international friendly match between England and Belgium at Wembley Stadium on June 2, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Steven GoldsteinContributor IJune 14, 2012

He's "itching to get out on the pitch."

That's what England's Danny Welbeck said about striker Wayne Rooney, one of the most prominent soccer players in the world and the unquestionable key to his team's success. Serving the final game of his UEFA suspension for a tackle on Montenegro's Miodrag Džudović, Rooney returns as England rounds out group play against Ukraine on June 19.

But just how much does it shake up the tournament? Far less than you'd think.

A reappraisal of Rooney's standing in the soccer world is near-blasphemous. There's no need to rehash his celebrated career, nor is there need to question his impact on or value to England. What can't be brushed over, however, is England's standing in the rest of the field, with or without Rooney.

Against France, England managed a paltry three shots, just one on target. Their opponents, on the other hand, mustered 19, with 15 on target. Rooney-less England was lucky to escape with a point.  

Meanwhile, the Ukraine looked to be in top form against Sweden, notching two scores and 53 percent possession. Don't look now, but Group D poses a formidable challenge for England.

In fact, if the Three Lions drop Friday's match with Sweden, things could be over well before Rooney retakes the pitch. England has never topped Sweden in competitive play, and the sultry Kiev atmosphere will lead to serious fatigue on both sides. It's anyone's game.

Lingering injuries to Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Jack Wilshere leave manager Roy Hodgson short-handed. Factor in Steven Gerrard's long-standing back issues and Scott Parker's questionable Achilles, and you have a problem. Not even Rooney can run through the tourney by himself.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United at Stadium of Light on May 13, 2012 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Beyond Group D, there are the inveterate competitors that England simply can't keep up with. Dogged Germany has already notched two impressive wins. Can England keep pace with the speedy Mario Gómez? What about red-hot Ronaldo and Portugal? And Italy and cup favorite Spain?

England's notoriously critical supporters have a lot to worry about. Rooney hasn't hit net in international play since 2004.

Welbeck predicts a high-scoring affair on Friday, but is defense-reliant England fit to compete in such a game? Sweden's playing with a serious chip on its shoulder, and the acknowledged possibility of a loss makes Rooney's comeback fade from Euro relevance.

Plus, just how seamless will Rooney's return be? England will likely have no room for error, and even twenty minutes of adjustment for the superstar may be the difference between a win and a loss.

The Manchester menace will be welcomed back with arms wide open, but with the Three Lions' depleted roster, challenging group, and impermeable competition, he won't be enough.

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