England look to Rooney for last eight berth

Posted at 06/17/12 7:59 PM

KRAKOW, Poland - England hope the entrance of Wayne Rooney will seal the exit of Ukraine as Roy Hodgson's buoyant young side aim to wrap up qualification for the Euro 2012 quarter-finals on Tuesday.

The 3-2 victory over Sweden on Friday has sent confidence coursing through English ranks, with goals scored by Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck suddenly giving Hodgson a range of options in attack.

But it is the return of Rooney from suspension that will give England an extra jolt of optimism as they seek the point they need to clinch a place in the last eight at Donetsk's Donbass Arena.

"Wayne's a quality player, a world-class player," Hodgson said. "His ability is a bit special. You're lucky if you're a manager of a national team to have players of his quality available.

"Hopefully, he'll make life that bit easier for us going into the next game when we need another result."

Hodgson brushed off the prospect that too much might be expected of Rooney, who will be making his first start in a competitive game since May 13.

"This is part of being a top, top player in an important national team. If you are Sweden it's (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic, if it's Ukraine I'm sure it's (Andriy) Shevchenko. If it's England it's about Rooney and (Steven) Gerrard and if it's France it's about (Franck) Ribery and (Samir) Nasri.

"You trust these players who have put up with this kind of pressure in their lives for a long time, and that they know how to deal with it," he said.

"Wayne won't need reminding if he plays well on Tuesday everybody will be saying fantastic things about him.

"If he misses a chance or two people will say other things. As a coach you can't protect him, but the players know their job. I'm not worried about his fitness. He will be raring to go."

With Hodgson yet to confirm which player Rooney will replace in the starting line-up, his other major selection dilemma concerns Walcott, the decisive influence in Kiev after transforming a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory.

The Arsenal winger scored the equaliser before his lacerating pace created the winner for Welbeck after he replaced the pedestrian James Milner early in the second half.

Hodgson meanwhile is confident his team will be able to cope with what is certain to be an intimidating atmosphere in Donetsk, where Ukraine must win to avoid elimination.

Hodgson believes England will benefit from the experience of Kiev, where an estimated 20,000 Swedish fans drowned out England's smaller band of around 4,000 supporters to create a hostile atmosphere.

"We're getting used to playing away from home," Hodgson said. "We've already played in an away game, we have to prepare for another away game.

"That's what happens -- when you get drawn into a pool with the host nation you have to accept you're literally playing away from home."

Ukraine captain Andrei Shevchenko meanwhile said the hosts would have to raise their game after the bubble of euphoria created by their opening win over Sweden was punctured so clinically in last Friday's 2-0 defeat to France.

"We knew it was a very difficult game and the French played really well, especially in the second half. But we still have a chance," Shevchenko said.

"We know that if we can beat England we'll qualify for the knockout stage. (But) we'll have to play much better than we did against France if we want to beat England. They are definitely one of the most dangerous teams here.

"They had a good result against France and they beat Sweden, so they've had a great start. Home advantage helps us a lot."

Shevchenko also warned his side against focusing excessively on the threat posed by the returning Rooney.

"I know he's a very good player and someone who can change the team," Shevchenko said.

"But the whole England team is very good. They are most dangerous from set-pieces, corners and free-kicks. We will have to watch that."

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