Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Why England may Roo the night Manchester United were beaten by "typical Germans"

Last Wednesday morning, Wayne Rooney's leg was encased in a protective boot after a bad night in Germany.

Last night, he started the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final at Old Trafford, his sprained ankle apparently blessed by a miracle recovery.

When that fine Scotsman, Sir Alex Ferguson of Clydeside Docks, finally took his top-scorer off (pictured above) in the shock 4-4 Champions League quarter-final defeat against Bayern Munich, England's 24-year-old spearhead, was badly hobbling.

After an hour, with United still 4-3 ahead, United's medical team swarmed like flies, eager to get to work on that ankle.

Rooney waved them away and took his place on the bench to watch his team-mates slump to defeat, beaten on a away goals by a glorious Aarjen Robben strike.

England boss Fabio Capello, was left, pulling his hair out. Afterwards, Sir Alex insisted:

"I don't think it's serious. It's just the tissue. I'm sure he'll be OK for the following week."

Of his side's unexpected demise he said: "I think we've done well, performed well. It was a great performance. We were very unlucky."

But he was fuming over the red card issued to full-back Rafael shortly after Rooney's subsitution, a decision which turned the game. He said: "Young boy, inexperience, but they got him sent off. They all rushed towards the referee. Typical Germans. You can't dispute that. The key issues were the goal before half-time and then the boy getting sent off, but it's still taken an exceptional goal to win the tie."

Of course, Sir Alex had reassured Capello just 24 hours earlier that he wouldn't risk the fitness of England's talismanic striker Rooney.

Oh no, of course not. Like any other Scot, Sir Alex was thinking of his neighbours' chances at the World Cup, which kicks off for England against the USA, in Rustenburg, on June 12.

But when it came to the crunch, Rooney was there, in the starting line-up. His presence alone appeared to inspire his side, who scored two early goals to cancel out the 2-1 deficit suffered at the Allianz Arena eight days ago.

For an hour, Rooney was targeted by the German defence. who were acting on behalf of club and country, hoping to find that weakness deep in the right ankle, to finally crock the tough guy from Toxteth.

It worked. For once Rooney was not on the scoresheet for United.

Two magnificent goals from Nani and one from the ever-improving Darren Gibson had given England's last European Cup survivors a two-goal cushion.

When Ivica Olic pulled one back just before the break, it was squeaky bottom time for United—especially when Fabio, playing the game of his life at right back, was sent off for the tiniest of touches on Franck Ribery, his second bookable offence.

Rooney could barely walk midway through the first half when he turned the ankle again. But he battled on, gave Sir Alex a thumbs up, and came out for the second half.

He was nothing like himself. After the four-goal display from Lionel Messi as Barcelona destroyed Arsenal the night before, Rooney's was a mediocre display.

It was bound to be. He was only half-fit, just as William Gallas and Cesc Fabregas were only barely fit for Arsenal against Barca a week ago, and how the French and Spanish have whinged about that.

Rooney, like Gallas and Fabregas, must hope for a World Cup miracle to follow the all-too-brief Champions League miracle.

There is a crumb of comfort for Capello. With the Premier League's interest in the Champions League now at and end—the first time there has been no English club in the last four in seven seasons—at least Rooney, Ferdinand, Terry, Lampard, Walcott and the rest won't be playing until deep into May.

Leave that to the Bayern, Barca, Inter Milan or Lyon. Let Germany, Spain, Italy and France send their clubs into the final at the Bernebeu on May 22, two days before England's friendly against Mexico at Wembley.

Apart from the small matter of the Premier League run-in and the FA Cup final, the focus now moves to the World Cup. Ultimately that could be a blessing in disguise.

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