Wait is over for Rooney and England
Euro 2012: Krakow
England's most potent weapon is hardly a secret but there was still a sense of anticipation when Wayne Rooney was wheeled out in front of the media in Krakow on Sunday.
Rooney's road to England redemption after his red card in Montenegro last October will start in the hostile surroundings of Donetsk's Donbass Arena on Tuesday where their Euro 2012 aspirations go on the line against co-hosts Ukraine.
When former England coach Fabio Capello travelled to Uefa headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, to plead for Rooney's suspension to be cut from three games to two - and open up a window of opportunity at Euro 2012 - this was the occasion he had in mind.
And Capello's successor Roy Hodgson will now be the grateful beneficiary of the Italian's unswerving support for England's outstanding player as they seek the point they require to reach the last eight.
Wayne Rooney has a chance to match the impact he made in Euro 2004 as an 18-year-old. Photo: AFP
Rooney was measured and repentant as he faced the world's media, admitting: "What happened was a mistake and I paid the price. When it was a three-game ban I thought I probably wouldn't be here. I'm happy that I am.
"It is obviously something I regret and I understand I made a mistake, but I had to move on and understand I have got a two-game ban. The red card I got was obviously silly, but it was something that happened and I had to forget about it and take my punishment."
For all the calm of Rooney's demeanour, he is arguably the least suited of Hodgson's squad to the enforced role of powerless bystander. Captain Steven Gerrard has already revealed how his fellow Merseysider had been taking out his frustrations on footballs located in the England dressing room.
Rooney said: "Watching games is more difficult than playing, as when you are playing you feel you can do something to put it right if it is not going right. When you are sat in the stands, there is nothing you can do.
"You are basically a fan for the game and that is what it has felt like. I now understand why the fans say it is so difficult to watch."
Rooney's hyperactivity is well-known and there is no doubt he will arrive in Ukraine determined to make up for lost time - both here at Euro 2012 and for disappointments at previous major tournaments.
After electrifying Euro 2004 with four goals as an 18-year-old Everton striker, only to see his illumination of Lisbon's Stadium of Light cut short by a foot injury in the quarter-final against Portugal, the big international stage has been an unfulfilling place for such a world-class talent.
He famously announced his return to full fitness for the 2006 World Cup in Germany after another foot injury by walking into England's Baden-Baden base with the words: "The Big Man is back in town."
Sadly the big man left town with only a red card and abject misery for company after being sent off in another last-eight loss on penalties to Portugal.
In South Africa two years ago he was a victim of the crushing boredom inside Rustenburg's "Camp Capello" and had a campaign memorable only for an ill-advised and undeserved verbal attack on England's fans into a television camera after the woeful goalless draw with Algeria in Cape Town.
So Rooney has waited eight years to have the desired impact on England's fortunes in a major tournament and Hodgson will be hoping the frustrations will be channelled into a profitable release against Ukraine, who require a win to qualify.
The excitement about Rooney's return has not been confined to neutral observers. Manager Hodgson has been unable to disguise his anticipation of the day when he can pick the 26-year-old. There is no question he will be thrust straight in against Ukraine.
Whoever Hodgson decides to leave out to accommodate the comeback can count themselves unlucky after Liverpool's Andy Carroll and Rooney's Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck made goalscoring contributions to the 3-2 win against Sweden.But it is clear Hodgson will not hold Rooney back as England are not so well-blessed with world-class players that they can afford to leave one out, with the boss admitting: "If I did leave him out all hell might break loose in the dressing room."
Hodgson will hope the mayhem is inflicted on Ukraine, where Rooney will vie for attention with the co-host nation's sporting icon Andriy Shevchenko as he tries to finish his international career with a flourish.
Rooney's return gives England a player who can make the world's best defences take a step back. He will give Hodgson mobility, tactical flexibility, creation and a goalscoring threat that can change the emphasis and momentum of any match.
And if England do need a moment of inspiration that could make a difference in Donetsk, then Hodgson and Rooney's team-mates know he is the player capable of producing it.
Rooney appeared to have doused his combustible temperament at Old Trafford last season but it will be put to the test in the Donbass Arena. The subdued atmosphere of England's opening against France where players could be heard shouting instructions will be replaced by a hothouse playing host to a nation's expectations.
He is confident England can deal with the occasion, saying: "We've been to a lot of stadiums around the world and we've had to deal with a big atmosphere on a lot of occasions. We're big enough and experienced enough to deal with that."
The wait is over. England and Roy Hodgson will hope it is worthwhile.