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England soccer coach Roy Hodgson has not ruled out the possibility of Wayne Rooney being benched for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil should he not perform, causing many supporters to wonder if such a move is actually deserved. Since the departure of David Beckham from international duty in 2009, Rooney has become the talisman for England’s competition prospects, widely thought of to be the best English player on offer and best overall British player had it not been for Gareth Bale’s remarkable catapult to brilliance. After England qualified, it was taken as fact that if they were going to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1966 (and the second time in total) they would have to keep the 28-year-old fit and raring to play 90 minutes every game.
However, as the competition begins to loom large in everybody’s calendar, minds wander to Rooney’s contribution in the last few international tournaments he has played in, and whether they might foreshadow his performance in South America.
Euro 2004 was Rooney’s first and finest tournament for England. After scoring two against Switzerland in the second group game, he became the youngest ever goalscorer at a European Championship finals at just 18 years old (a record broken just four days later by Swiss winger Johan Vonlanthen) and by the time England were knocked out by Portugal in the quarter final, he had taken that goal tally to four. Along with fellow countrymen Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, Rooney was also voted in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.
The 2006 World Cup was a rather different story. After injuring his foot in a league game, Rooney faced a race to get fit in time to take part in the tournament, and became available in the second group game against Trinidad and Tobago. With no goals to his name in the group stage, the quarter final against Portugal saw Rooney sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho and his team knocked out on penalties, leaving him goalless for the whole tournament. This type of display would become too familiar at competitive international level in the coming years, culminating in a good reason for the player to be benched this summer’s World Cup.
After a wait of four years due to England’s inability to qualify for Euro 2008, Rooney and co were back on the scene in the 2010 World Cup, scraping through the group stage with two draws and a win. Rooney’s main contribution during that time was to berate booing England fans at the end of the second game against Algeria (0-0) for their lack of support. England were knocked out by Germany 4-1 in the round of 16, and Rooney ended the competition without finding the net for the second time in a row.
Euro 2012 saw the English knocked out in the quarter final by Italy via a 0-0 draw and a 4-2 penalty shoot-out loss. Rooney scored one goal in England’s four matches and failed to provide the telling quality of a world class player, too often drifting into the background and playing the simple ball when what’s required is the brilliance we’re so used to seeing him provide at club level for Manchester United. With this making his overall record just five goals in four competitions (a total of 16 games) it shows a distinct lack of form in competition finals, a fact that will worry England fans this time around as well.
Wayne Rooney was the highest goal scorer in England’s qualifying group with seven, but against teams such as San Marino and Moldova you would expect nothing less. With poor performances when it really counts, the question remains whether Roy Hodgson would be completely mad to leave Rooney benched for this World Cup.
Commentary by Zachary John