Wayne Rooney's first Euro 2012 appearance for England has already occurred in his mind

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

By the time Wayne Rooney makes his first appearance at Euro 2012 on Wednesday, Ukraine will already have been defeated, the Manchester United striker will have scored a couple of goals and England will be marching merrily toward the quarterfinals.


These events, it is worth noting, will all have taken place in Rooney's mind, as part of his preparatory routine for what must count as one of the biggest games of his international career.

Rooney recently detailed the intricate mental web he weaves for himself leading up to every match, and the decisive clash in Group D, where England must avoid defeat to co-host Ukraine in order to stave off elimination, is no exception.

On Tuesday afternoon, he will contact the team's equipment manager to find out whether England will be wearing its white home jerseys or its navy blue away kit, as well as discovering the color scheme of its opponent and analyzing the layout of the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, where the game will take place in front of a partisan home crowd.

All these factors will allow him to create a mental portrait of what to expect and leave him, literally, dreaming of glory.

"I have done it all my career," Rooney said. "I don't know why but I have always asked the kitmen what color kit we are wearing, found out what color the opponents are wearing and visualized scoring goals or good things happening in the game.

"I always do it before every game, get good thoughts, good moments happening in the head. Hopefully that can help me. I do it the night before games, when I'm in bed. It's quite difficult getting to sleep. I am excited as well."

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That this will be Rooney's first game in the tournament is entirely of his own doing. A mindless tackle on Macedonia's Miodrag Dzudovic during qualifying earned him a three-game suspension that kicked into force at the start of the competition.

If the ban had remained in place, Rooney may not have been selected for the tournament, but an appeal by England's Football Association resulted in a reduction to two games. As it is, it speaks volumes for Rooney's value to the team that he was chosen to the squad despite being ineligible for the 1-1 draw with France and a nail-biting 3-2 victory over Sweden.

Events have developed nicely for new England manager Roy Hodgson, who now has the luxury of unleashing his best player on a Ukraine squad whose own talisman, veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko, is in doubt because of injury.

Anyone who has watched Rooney over years will appreciate the frustration he has surely felt at sitting on the sidelines, and his pre-match comments carried the air of a man desperate to make up for lost time.

"I have had to take my punishment," Rooney said. "But at international tournaments I haven't been good enough and I hope I can put that right. You all know I am a confident person. I'm not one to shy away from games. That's been in me since I was a young boy and it's not going to change."

Rooney enjoyed an outstanding season at the club level, with his performance the primary reason United came within a whisker – or a minute – of lifting the English Premier League title before being denied by rival Manchester City.

[Martin Rogers: Andriy Shevchenko's Euro 2012 form may tempt an MLS club into a mistake]

As he knows, however, he has failed to deliver at a major tournament since his first, explosive appearances on the international scene as a precocious 17-year-old in 2004. Recovering from a foot injury, he struggled at the 2006 World Cup and was just another anonymous contributor during England's atrocious World Cup campaign two years ago.

This time he may find circumstances more to his liking. Rooney seems to be enjoying fatherhood following some of the much-publicized excesses of his youth and appears to have a greater sense of peace and purpose these days.

More important, possibly, is that the crushing weight of expectation that usually squeezes the life out of England at a major competition is absent this time around. Rooney's return is being greeted with delight and optimism, yet there is still no sign of the usual one-eyed and arrogant expectation of dominance from the delusional English media and public.

"I'm not going to win the Euros on my own," said Rooney, and no one expects him to. England is still a long shot, with Germany, Portugal, Spain and France having far stronger credentials. But any slight chance England does have is surely provided by the player with the vision, both on the field and in his own mind, to get the job done.

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