Rooney ready to be unleashed at Euros after ban
Tethered to seats in the stands so far at the European Championship, Wayne Rooney is finally ready to burst into life on the pitch.
With his two-match suspension completed, the spectator will become the striker again on Tuesday against co-host Ukraine, hoping to help steer England into the quarterfinals.
The Manchester United player will be unleashed in the Group D finale in Donetsk after missing the draw against France and victory over Sweden.
And to accommodate Rooney, Roy Hodgson will make a change to the side that beat Sweden 3-2 on Friday by dropping either Danny Welbeck or Andy Carroll, who both scored in Kiev.
''Rooney is a special player and it would be very difficult for me quite frankly to leave him out of the team,'' Hodgson said. ''I'm afraid that if you're a member of a team that has someone like Wayne Rooney sitting out with suspension, you probably expect him to get back in the team when the suspension is served.''
And the coach quipped: ''If I did leave him out, all hell might break loose in the dressing room.''
Even Welbeck would seem to accept being dropped in favor of his more experienced Manchester United teammate.
''Make no mistake, the whole team is happy that Wazza will be available to play again,'' he said. ''We all want to play but it's only going to benefit us to have a player of his proven quality as part of the plans going forward in this tournament.''
England could be relying on Rooney's freshness and firepower in front of goal to compensate for any repeat of the defensive lapses that nearly handed Sweden the win on Friday in Kiev.
''Hopefully, the addition of a player of Rooney's class will take some pressure of the defenders because he can change a game off his own bat,'' Hodgson said.
''We hope that by having Wayne fresh that will be a bonus,'' he added. ''He has to get out there and perform but I have every confidence he will ... he is a world class player. I am always wary of giving players epithets but I think his ability is a bit special.''
But is Rooney's return being built up too much in the England camp?
The 26-year-old forward hasn't scored at a major tournament since Euro 2004 - when he hit four goals as an 18-year-old - having failed to find the net at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
In fact, Rooney has only scored three goals for his country since a miserable tournament in South Africa.
Hodgson, though, is adamant that Rooney can be England's ''real ace in the hole'' having played less than 40 minutes of football since United's last match of the season a month ago - in a Euro 2012 warmup against Belgium.
''He's been like a very good professional his training performances have been first class and he has been first class around the place in terms of encouraging the other players and backing them up,'' Hodgson said.
The danger is if Rooney is too desperate to make an impact. Then the hotheaded side of his character may re-emerge and he may throw himself at the game in the steaming temperatures of Donetsk.
After all, Rooney received the two-match ban from UEFA for petulantly kicking Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic in the final Euro 2012 qualifier in October.
''He'll want to make up for time he's missed and make it up to all the lads,'' said winger Theo Walcott, who scored one and set up another against Sweden.
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris