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Wayne Rooney: World Cup's most potent striker?

Some say he looks like Shrek but England's hopes are on his goals.

Wayne Rooney
Will he score for England at the World Cup? Wayne Rooney kicks the ball in Manchester, northern England, April 17, 2010. (Darren Staples/Reuters)

BOSTON — After England defeated Mexico 3-1 in a World Cup tune-up, coach Fabio Capello had a few things to be pleased about. His defenders had moved up to join the attack and had netted two goals, while 6’8” Peter Crouch was a thorn in the Mexican side, winning critical headers around the goal.

But the most comforting moment came midway through the first half when Wayne Rooney took a pass along the sidelines, pivoted and plowed past his defender — doing his best imitation of a freight train barreling toward the net. Though nothing came of the classic Rooney run, it was a welcome sign that he had fully recovered from nagging ankle and groin injuries that had slowed him with Manchester United at season’s end.

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It always seems hyperbolic when writers insist that the World Cup hopes of a nation rest on any single player. But in the case of England — with its desperate desire, after 44 years, for another Cup championship — and its 24-year-old superstar, Rooney, it seems a bit understated. Nike made the point exquisitely in its World Cup ad that hypothesizes alternative scenarios for Rooney after South Africa: failure and life as an outcast; success with knighthood not to mention a run on babies named Wayne.

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Rooney, though only 5’9,” is built like a barrel with the broad shoulders that can carry the weight. Moreover, as a soccer prodigy, he has plenty of experience with England’s outsized expectations. In his debut for Everton at age 16, he netted the game-winner that ended Arsenal’s three-game unbeaten streak — and, at the time, was the youngest goal scorer in Premier League history.