Walcott's Starring Role for England Against Sweden Was 6 Years in the Making
In 2006, a 17-year-old whippet of a striker named Theo Walcott made the quantum leap from championship starlet to member of England's squad of 23 for the World Cup.
Six years later, Walcott finally made his first appearance for his country at a major tournament—scoring the equaliser and setting up the winner in England's barnstorming 3-2 win against Sweden at Euro 2012.
With his defining contribution, Walcott added to the theme of redemption that's coming to define this summer's tournament.
Euro 2012 is the tournament with a conscience, it seems.
And that conscience was willing Walcott to deliver on the expectancy he's carried on his shoulders for six long years in Kiev.
May 2006 and Theo Walcott's life has just been changed forever by the news he's been selected by England to go the World Cup in Germany.
Aside from Sven-Goran Eriksson, England's manager, absolutely nobody saw it coming.
How could we?
For all the bubbling hype around him, Walcott had yet to play for his new club Arsenal. Half a season in English football's second tier barely qualified him for the pressures he'd face at a World Cup, and you wondered if the exposure might do him more harm than good.
Walcott's selection—ahead of the likes of Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent—was one of the most controversial in England's history. The controversy was only encouraged by the fact he didn't even see the field during England's campaign.
Some have suggested Walcott's development was severely stunted by his premature elevation to the international ranks.
With the media glare fixed on him from the age of 17, he's been one of most fiercely scrutinised footballers on the island in the six years since. Many have said he lacks footballing intelligence—one famously referring to him a "a speedboat without a driver."
At times, they've had a point.
Walcott should have been the natural successor to David Beckham on England's right flank, but he didn't even make Fabio Capello's squad for the 2010 World Cup. And at the same time, he was struggling through injuries to prove himself an essential starter for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
Maybe the World Cup snub was exactly what he needed? Because in the two years since, he's finally begun to look like the player Eriksson thought he would be in 2006.
And when he got his chance against Sweden, it was as if Walcott was channeling six years of frustration into 30 blistering minutes of glorious redemption.
He went to one World Cup and didn't play. He was dropped for the next one. This was his moment, and nobody would stop him from seizing it.
His goal screamed of belief and composure—Walcott taking possession on the edge of a crowded penalty area and slamming a fizzing shot into the roof of the net.
His assist was the answer to the question most commonly asked of him—that he wastes good possession and good positions. Having leaned on his pure speed to make space, Walcott drew on his experience to pick out Welbeck.
The speedboat had a driver, Walcott had an end product and England had their winner.
Suddenly, everything that had come before for Walcott suddenly made sense.
His journey to Kiev had been six years in the making and come upon countless frustrations and manifold obstacles, but the destination was surely worth the suffering.
Said Eriksson of his decision to pick Walcott in 2006, as per BBC Sport: "It will have served Walcott extremely well for the future. He has been to a World Cup, knows how it is and it will be very good for him in his career."
Maybe Eriksson knew what he was doing after all.
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