Wayne Rooney will have his chance at international redemption, but it won't come easy—or without provocation.
Rooney and England are set to play Montenegro Tuesday in Podgorica as the Three Lions continue their quest to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. For Rooney, however, more is at stake.
The last time Rooney and England played in Podgorica, Rooney was sent off for a late kick at Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic in an October 2011 match. England salvaged a 2-2 draw and qualified for Euro 2012, but Rooney's story lingered on.
Rooney, whose father had been arrested shortly before the match in relation to betting irregularities (via BBC Sport), drew a three-match UEFA ban, which was later reduced to two games. Those two games happened to come at Euro 2012, where England's challenge ended in the quarterfinals against Italy.
The incident and its aftermath brought back into question Rooney's ability to control himself in pressure-packed and important situations. In the 2006 World Cup, Rooney was sent off for a stamp on Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho as Cristiano Ronaldo famously played his own part in his then-teammate's dismissal with a wink.
Nearly seven years after Portugal and 17 months after Podgorica, Rooney has a chance to make the latter right. Halfway through qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Montenegro lead Group H with 13 points, two ahead of England.
Both teams have five matches remaining. The group winners qualify automatically for the World Cup.
That makes Tuesday's match vital, and Rooney is one player on everybody's mind.
"There is no doubt that Wayne Rooney is one of the best strikers in the world but we know from the last time England played here that he can sometimes play with a hot head," said Montenegro captain Mirko Vucinic (via the Daily Telegraph).
That doesn't quite amount to an admission that Montenegro will try to wind up Rooney, but it comes close. Regardless of how those words are interpreted, though, it's clear Rooney will be a key man for Montenegro Tuesday.
Vucinic added: "He is a good player but it has been proved over the years that you can get a reaction out of him. England would have no chance with 10 men and I’m sure their coach will be telling them that."
England manager Roy Hodgson, meanwhile, said he thinks Rooney has matured. The stats seem to back that opinion: Rooney received only one yellow card in the Premier League last season, and even though he has drawn six yellows this campaign, he has not been sent off this season or last (via EPL Index).
"Wayne's played so many games, he's so experienced, I'm sure he's capable of writing off the incident," Roy Hodgson said per the Guardian. "He's paid his price. I'd like to think he'd forget all about it."
Maybe Rooney has not forgotten all about it. In his own words, Rooney has suggested that he's learned from his mistake.
"I didn't think: 'Right, I'm going to kick this player.' It just happened," Rooney said last summer at Euro 2012 (per the Guardian). "I understood straightaway it was a mistake."
With that realization in hand, Rooney's experience and goalscoring ability could combine to lethal effect for England.