Rooney can carry weight of history on broad shoulders
ENGLAND may feel oppressed by both the weight of history and their own doubts when they face Germany tomorrow, but neither problem should prevent them reaching a quarter-final of near but not quite certain death against Argentina.
Diego Maradona's team are exploring a football dimension of their own at the moment, but they are doing it with less than an iron guard in defence and if all goes well in Bloemfontein tomorrow, England may just draw a little benefit from the sense that they have not much left to lose.
Except, maybe, the chains they wrapped around themselves in a shocking passage through the group stage that was only partially redeemed by victory over Slovenia.
The brutal truth is that a team who were numbered among the favourites, however optimistically, when they arrived a few weeks ago, have shed much -- if not all -- of their reputation as authentic world-class performers. This afflicts no one more than Wayne Rooney. He came here numbered among the headliners, Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta and Torres, but it was an elevation that appears to have had the effect of the most callous of handicaps.
That is the bad news for England that is proofed against any level of varnishing. However, the good news is that Rooney may have touched rock bottom in the second game against Algeria in Cape Town and can only come up. He was much sharper and more involved this week in Port Elizabeth and it is a reasonable suspicion that he too will be liberated by the escape from catastrophe against the Slovenians.
The bad news may just be rendered old news if Rooney can justify the German fears that he is still the most influential man in any England performance.
Franz Beckenbauer certainly tempered his doubts about almost everything to do with the current English football culture with the caution that if Rooney makes anything like a run into the afternoon sunlight, so might England.
It was a statement that underlines a basic truth of tomorrow's game. While Germany have already shown they have at least some of the nerve and the fortitude of their predecessors and a skilled, exciting prospect in 21-year-old Mesut Ozil, they do not have anyone in the class of Rooney. This is also true of Steven Gerrard in his ability to make an explosive impact.
There were other encouragements for Fabio Capello in Port Elizabeth, despite the failure to score a second goal, which would have carried England into an infinitely easier side of the World Cup draw.
John Terry proved that any rebellious thoughts against Capello rested entirely in his mind.
James Milner came back from the dead with a performance of fine character. Gerrard and Frank Lampard on several heady occasions exchanged passes that resulted in promising forward progress.
Glen Johnson looked as though he was regaining a little of his swagger when he had the ball at his feet. Jermain Defoe resurrected his confidence in front of goal.
The result may not have been a banquet and decidedly not something to intimidate a team as resilient as Germany. But a few vital points were made.
Capello said that, at last, he recognised some of the strengths of his team. He said the spirit was back.
There will, of course, have to be more than spirit. There will have to be coherence and authority -- plain evidence that England have passed through the worst of a severe crisis.
More than anything, there will have to be something more like the real Rooney.
Given all of the above, England should win without the psychological scarring that automatically accompanies a penalty shoot-out.
It is time to break a wearisome pattern and it appears that England have rediscovered the means and, maybe, just enough of a healing nerve. (© Independent News Service)