Wayne Rooney: 10 Bold Predictions for His England Return Against Ukraine
England narrowly escaped an embarrassing draw to Sweden Friday, edging the Scandinavians 3-2 with two brilliant finishes from Theo Walcott (I believe I had that one) and Danny Welbeck. But the fact that they needed arguably the two best goals of the tournament thus far to get past a team who was handled by Ukraine proves more than ever how much they miss Wayne Rooney.
Rooney makes his return for the Three Lions Tuesday in the final group stage match against co-hosts Ukraine. A draw is enough to get them through, but a win plus some help with goal differential would be more welcomed so they may win the group and avoid Spain in the first knockout round.
The stagnant offense, despite their three goals Friday, is in need of a major boost to overcome the French, who sit atop Group D.
Here are 10 bold predictions for Rooney’s return in helping them win Group D.
He Will Get a Yellow Card Inside the First 20 Minutes
Rooney is about as feisty a forward as you can get. His pension to pressure defenders and chase down midfielders is one of the most celebrated parts of his game. In this modern era with the specialist at each position, it is rare you see someone who plays the whole of the game with such eagerness.
However, it also tends to get him in a bit of trouble. Only Grant Holt had more fouls than Rooney as a forward. Though he only received two yellow cards for Manchester United last season, that is well below his average, which generally hovers around double digits.
With all that energy built up over having to sit out the past two games, you can bet he will be eager to go at someone early on.
He Will Be Missing Inside the First 20 Minutes
The yellow card I predicted Rooney picks up inside the first 20 minutes will also be the only time you hear his name in that span. Though he is not coming off an injury and has been training with the team, it is one thing to have kick arounds with teammates and a whole other to play at game speed.
The pace and energy inside Donbass Arena will be one of the most (if not the most) furious atmospheres these players have ever been in. When Ukraine scored their first ever goal at Euros against Sweden, the fans completely shifted the momentum to their side.
With Ukraine needing a win, you can bet that they will try and go out early to awaken the crowd, giving them a distinct advantage. That kind of direct and fast play will catch Rooney off guard, and he will have to get his sea legs back and find a footing. Don’t expect much from him to start off.
He Will Take 5 or More 1st-Half Shots, but None on Goal
Most strikers are shoot-first players, but the excellence of Rooney is how he has developed over the years into a complete forward. He has recently been dropped back deeper into the United midfield and asked to be a supplier of the ball as much as a scorer.
But the eagerness to get back on the pitch will be apparent through a trigger-happy mentality. He will be given the green light by Roy Hodgson to shoot when he thinks he has got a chance, trying to spark something early for a team who needs goals.
However, the rust will show in this early part, as his shots are well off target. It will take a bit for him to get those angles down and threaten the goal, but expect a first half of groans as you watch shot after shot miss the goal.
Twitter Will Erupt with Criticism
A poor first half will bring out the moronic knee-jerking fan in all of us, as we flock to our phones and computers, standing up on our digital soapboxes and screaming as loud as we can that Rooney is a waste in 140 characters or less.
Yes, the reduction of perspective has a great deal to do with every thought that pops into our heads getting published on a social platform like any other. So many who had awaited the return of Rooney will be calling for the bland central play of Ashley Young and Andy Carroll up top, whose high-water mark was scoring a wide-open header against Sweden.
Yes, we will all relish in the hopes that our words matter to someone out there, and that’s what drives us to reduce our competence to the modern equivalent Neolithic man’s grunting.
He Will Assist Welbeck 5 Minutes into the 2nd Half
Attempting to neuter all the momentum Ukraine had going into the half, Rooney figures it out and England starts the ball rolling at a furious pace. A quick development of an attack (likely on the counter) will get Rooney sprinting full speed through the midfield.
The defenders will drop back as Rooney presses on, and he will find Welbeck just getting behind the line. A perfectly weighted pass will be matched by a perfectly placed shot to give England their first goal.
It will be the exact kind of play Hodgson wanted out of his team and will really bode well for the rest of the half. With the air lifted out of the stadium, the pressure eases on Rooney and company.
He Will Score a Penalty, but That’s It
I think English fans can kind of breathe a sigh of relief that they have yet to draw a penalty. One of the most defining moments in a game can be the result of a spot kick, as momentum tends to sway with whoever gets the better of the other after the shot.
With Frank Lampard injured and Rooney suspended, England was missing their two best penalty takers for the first two matches. But Rooney’s return will be matched by a call which has him going to the spot. From there it becomes clock work, as he puts it home to further deflate the fans' hope of seeing Ukraine through.
But it will be the only goal Rooney scores in the match.
He Will Make Andy Carroll Look Really Good
Sometime in the second half, Hodgson will go to the bench and bring on Andy Carroll for Welbeck. The move will be greeted with head scratching, as Rooney and Welbeck have done a fine job up to that point. But the results will be more than welcomed.
Rooney, given a nice big/oafish target to pass to, will start to make more runs wide and not through traffic. The Ukrainians, pushing to score, will leave those open pockets and give Rooney plenty of time to pick out that terrible haircut.
Carroll will run around the pitch after he scores as if he had just overturned the 50 years of hardship for the English, and Liverpool fans will salivate at the thought of him finally returning on his price tag. (Let me caution you Reds: as a Chelsea fan, don’t hold your breath. They never live up to it.) But in truth, it was all Rooney making it happen.
He Will Play a Part in Every English Goal
This is probably the least bold claim I make, but also the least practical in a game of so many variables. With Rooney returning, I expect play to really go through him, and he will try to get himself involved as much as possible. You could see how much it bothered him to be sidelined as his side flubbed chance after chance in both the first two matches.
This does not necessarily mean that he will score two goals and have two assists on the score sheet, but analysis will show you that he was involved in unquantifiable ways. It could be as obvious as playing the through ball that led to the cross or more subtle, such as him pulling defenders out of position to make room for his teammates.
Whatever it is, expert analysis will show that every goal involved Rooney one way or another.
He Will Save the Game, on Defense
For all the brilliance he displayed in the offensive half, his biggest contribution will come on defense. I think that this game will come down to the wire in one of two ways: Either the English could possibly lose and get knocked out of Euros, or their goal differential could be threatened at the end, giving them Spain in the first knockout round. Either way, conceding a late goal would turn out very bad for them.
But this late goal will not happen, as Rooney saves the day on a set piece. As the clock winds down, England drop back to defend. A foul or corner had the big Ukrainians coming up from the back, with one of them getting their head on a goal-bound ball. But Rooney is in just the right place at the right time and makes a clearance to save England’s hopes.
You can never undervalue how many different things this man can do, but it will be this moment that really proves his importance to the team.
Twitter Will Explode with Praise
Just like clockwork, the 45 minutes of gameplay translates into roughly decades for the sports fan, where once again all perspective is cast aside in admiration of Rooney’s performance.
Those who were quiet at half after watching their hero struggle will awaken armed with results and hindsight. Those that chastised earlier will retreat to their dark holes. And even some flip-floppers will have their opinions mocked as they sway back and forth as comfortably as a tree in the breeze.
What Are Your BOLD Predictions?
Now remember that these are bold predictions, which I guess is somewhat oxymoronic in the first place. But, nonetheless, I claim to know nothing more than anyone else and far less than most. What I have written here is a fantasized scenario that all sports stars dream of and fans crave.
So what are the bold predictions you have for Rooney's return?
As always, please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading!
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