ENGLAND manager Roy Hodgson showed the first signs of daring to dream of glory yesterday as he prepared to unleash star player Wayne Rooney on the European Championship against Ukraine this evening.
Hodgson has been at pains to dampen expectations surrounding his squad since taking charge last month but finally entertained talk of capturing fans’ imaginations in tonight’s Group D decider.
That new-found boldness is in part down to Friday’s stirring 3-2 comeback win against Sweden, which leaves England requiring only a point from tonight’s showdown with the co-hosts in Donetsk.
But it is also fuelled by the return of maverick striker Rooney, who missed the first two group games but will go straight back into the starting line-up alongside either Danny Welbeck or Andy Carroll.
“You play football at international level to try to get people to get carried away. Dreaming is what football is about and we’re happy that people now think we can go a bit further,” said Hodgson.
“We can’t guarantee success, but it’s nice to know that there’s a lot more belief in the team. The team believe in themselves and if the performances have increased expectations then that’s good.”
Hodgson, who has also been boosted by winger Theo Walcott passing a fitness test, played down fears that over-excitement at his return and an eagerness to deliver could land Rooney in trouble, as it has in previous major tournaments.
“I am not concerned about Wayne going over the top,” he added. “It is a good point to make but I am sure other people apart from myself will be keen to remind him what we want is a good team performance. We want him to help us win a game of football. I have been very impressed with his attitude in training and I have no fears about him.”
Rooney is ready to start, Hodgson insists, despite his suspension leaving him 180 minutes shorter of competitive football than most players at the tournament.
“People say he may be ring rusty but from what I have seen he is every bit as sharp as when he played his last game for Manchester United,” said the former West Brom, Liverpool and Fulham boss.