On June 21, 2004, I was sat with what felt like the rest of England inside a packed Estadio du Luz in Lisbon. England were playing Croatia and needed a win to be guaranteed of a European Championships quarter-final clash with hosts Portugal. Despite the incredible atmosphere generated by a crowd dominated by English support, it was Croatia that took an early lead, going ahead after just six minutes. Presumably in a bid to show that it isn’t just commentators and pundits that use clichés, I turned to my travelling companions and made the observation; “This will sort the men from the boys…”
With Croatia a goal to the good, it could be argued that among the ‘men’ was Niko Kovac, who in scoring the opener became the oldest Croatian to find the net in a European Championships. Whilst Kovac was a few months away from his 33rd birthday, our hopes were pinned on a talented ‘boy’ – 18 year old Wayne Rooney.
The then-Everton striker scored his third and fourth goals of Euro 2004 in that game against Croatia, his energetic, exciting display the undoubted highlight of the game that saw England triumph 4-2, resulting in qualification for the quarterfinals for the first time in a European championship on foreign soil.
Rooney had already been the talk of the tournament, and his impressive brace made sure he was the name on every pair of football supporting lips in Europe. England’s quarterfinal clash with Portugal began perfectly, Michael Owen giving them the lead with three minutes gone, but just before the half-hour mark, England supporters were greeted with the worst sight possible. Wayne Rooney hobbled off after 27 minutes, signalling the end of England’s Euro 2004 hopes and the start of one of a litany of frustrating injuries and issues for one of the most exciting and promising players in the world.
After an injury playing for Manchester United, Rooney struggled to get fit for the 2006 World Cup and his and England’s tournament ended with a red card against Portugal in the second round, the dismissal proving to be the striker’s only real contribution of note. He was to endure another disappointing tournament in 2010, the low point coming when the Old Trafford star seemed to react angrily to supporters, who let their feelings be known after a drab draw with Algeria.
Two years later and Rooney’s disciplinary problems returned to haunt him once more, with a red card in the last qualifying game against Montenegro resulting in a three-match ban. This was reduced to two games on appeal, but it still meant Rooney was missing for England’s first two fixtures at Euro 2012, returning to play (and score) in the final group game against Ukraine. England were knocked out by Italy in the next round, and yet another tournament had passed without one of England’s most famous players making an impact.
That’s not to say he hasn’t performed when wearing the three lions. He is now the fifth-highest scorer for England with a total of 38 goals. Perhaps more impressively, Rooney is England’s top scorer in competitive fixtures and most pertinently of all, was England’s highest scorer in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, netting seven times.
Rooney’s goal-scoring record for England can’t be questioned, but I feel justified in saying I saw his finest moment at a tournament ten years ago in Lisbon. He’ll be the first name on Roy Hodgson’s team sheet when the tournament kicks off in June, and it’s high time he made sure he’s the first name on the score sheet too.
With Manchester United suffering an unexpectedly poor season, Rooney will be keen to make this year one to remember for the right reasons, and with an injury free build up there is no reason why Wayne Rooney can’t be one of the major stars in Brazil. Some would argue he owes a big performance to the supporters. Rooney would argue he owes it to himself.
Once again, the world is watching.
Mike Parkin is a lifelong football fan, a Season Ticket holder at Watford FC and a fervent supporter of the National team. Mike presents the popular Watford FC podcast ‘From the Rookery End’ and will be documenting his trip to the World Cup on the website: http://www.fromtherookeryend.com. You can also see Mike’s images on Instagram (RookeryEnd) whilst you can interact with Mike directly on Twitter by following @RookeryMike.