By Tom Williams (AFP) – Jun 19, 2012
DONETSK, Ukraine — Wayne Rooney scored his first goal at an international tournament for eight years as England beat Ukraine 1-0 on Tuesday, but his performance, like his team's, was laboured.
Back in Roy Hodgson's starting line-up after missing their first two group games through suspension, the 26-year-old headed in from close range early in the second half to put England in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.
It sent England into a last-eight meeting with Italy in Kiev on Sunday, but Hodgson will need much more from Rooney if they are to overcome a foe likely to pose an even stiffer test than Oleg Blokhin's enterprising Ukraine.
"Scoring's a great feeling. I thought my overall game could have been a bit better though," said Rooney.
"It was a difficult first game. But the one thing I was delighted with was that I was always putting myself in goalscoring opportunities.
"I could have done better but I'm delighted to get the goal and the three points."
An early surging run down the left-hand touchline drew chants of "Rooney!" from the England fans in that corner of the ground, but most of his touches in the first half betrayed the anxiety of a player too keen to make an impression.
His first touch let him down on several occasions -- most notably when he allowed Danny Welbeck's knock-down to roll under his foot in the 10th minute.
With Ukraine on top, sights of goal were few and far between and when Ashley Young picked out his Manchester United colleague with a cross from the left just before the half hour, Rooney mistimed his leap and headed wide.
At half-time, thoughts were beginning to turn towards Rooney's unhappy displays at the last World Cup, but three minutes into the second half he ended his eight-year wait for a major tournament goal.
It was not a goal to stand comparison with his brace against Croatia in Euro 2004 -- his last goals at a summer competition -- but it mattered not.
With 29 international goals, Rooney now trails three greats -- Nat Lofthouse, Sir Tom Finney and Alan Shearer -- by only one goal in the England goalscoring charts.
"He's got character, hasn't he?" said Hodgson.
"Those who have followed England and Manchester United, even Everton, you know what Rooney is, what he can do and his qualities. He showed them in abundance tonight.
"He and Welbeck worked extremely hard. It was his first game after having to sit these two others out, and it is a while since he played a competitive match, so he's got to be happy with the way things went for him."
He may have exploded onto the scene as an 18-year-old at Euro 2004, but the major tournaments have not been kind to Rooney since.
He arrived at the 2006 World Cup in Germany short of fitness after fracturing a bone in his foot in a league game with Chelsea, and was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho during England's quarter-final loss to Portugal.
England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 robbed him of another opportunity to leave his mark on an international competition, but he was scarcely more noticeable at the 2010 World Cup.
Unable to score as England went out to Germany in the last 16, his frustration told in an outburst launched at a television camera as he traipsed off the pitch following a dismal 0-0 draw with Algeria.
Two years on, he appeared older and wiser in the interviews he conducted prior to Tuesday's game, which saw Andrei Shevchenko bid farewell to the Ukrainian national team after 111 appearances.
Rooney has 75 caps, and yet, with so many disappointments already behind him, his international career feels as if it is perpetually beginning.
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