Published June 17, 2012
KRAKOW, Poland – Built up as the player to strengthen England's attack, Wayne Rooney is trying to downplay the impact he can make at the European Championship.
The striker has been a frustrated fan for England's first two matches, sitting out the draw against France and victory over Sweden because of suspension.
Now he's preparing to walk back into the starting lineup for the Group D finale against Ukraine on Tuesday, with coach Roy Hodgson playing up how he can make "life a little bit easier" for the team.
A draw against the co-hosts would be enough to steer England into the quarterfinals and Rooney would prefer if the attention wasn't on him.
"I don't put that pressure on myself," Rooney said Sunday. "There are 23 players in the squad and there's pressure on us all ... I'm not going to win the Euros on my own. There are 23 players who are going to contribute to try to help us win the tournament or go as far as we can."
Rooney, who scored 35 goals for Manchester United last season, will be making sure he isn't forced to sit in the stands again.
"When you're watching the game, it's more difficult than playing," he said. "When you're playing, you can always do something to try to change the game, or you always feel that you can help the team win. Obviously, sitting in the stands, then there's nothing you can do. You can only talk, so I think it's a bit more difficult watching."
Rooney was banned by UEFA for kicking a Montenegro player in the final Euro 2012 qualifier in October, but now insists his aggression is under control, having received just one yellow card since then playing for United.
"What happened was a mistake, I understood that and apologized to the guy (Miodrag Dzudovic)," Rooney said. "That's fine. I've paid the price. I've had to take it. And I have no problems with my attitude or my temperament."
But his absence gave strikers Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll a platform to shine against Sweden on Friday, with both scoring in the 3-2 victory. Theo Walcott also scored.
While Hodgson has said Welbeck or Carroll will lose their place against Ukraine, Rooney knows he can't take his own spot in the team for granted.
"The forwards have done well in the games, it's great for me as well," he said. "It's great competition. You know you need to be at your best to get in the team ... there's four good strikers there (including Jermain Defoe) and we'll all fight for one or two places. You have to make sure when you do play that you do well."
But Rooney has failed to fulfill his potential at major championships since bursting onto the international scene with four goals at Euro 2004 as an 18-year-old, failing to score at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
But with the affable Hodgson replacing the disciplinarian Fabio Capello as coach, Rooney is finding life in the England camp more relaxed.
"I think it helps everyone being English," he said. "There are no words lost in translation and we understand what the manager wants from us."
Rooney said Hodgson trusts his players and has given them a lot of rest time.
"We understand what we have to do," Rooney said. "It's good for the players to relax and obviously put football aside for even just one afternoon. It's good to give your mind a rest as well."
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris