KRAKOW, POLAND (AP) - Wayne Rooney is ready to play at the European Championship after being sidelined with a two-match suspension.
The striker returns Tuesday against Ukraine, hoping to steer England into the quarterfinals.
The Manchester United player missed the draw against France and victory over Sweden in Group D. Rooney was banned for kicking Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic in England’s last qualifier in October.
“Rooney is a special player and it would be very difficult for me quite frankly to leave him out of the team,” Hodgson said. “I’m afraid that if you’re a member of a team that has someone like Wayne Rooney sitting out with suspension, you probably expect him to get back in the team when the suspension is served.”
And the coach quipped: “If I did leave him out, all hell might break loose in the dressing room.”
Even Welbeck seemed to accept sitting in favor of his more experienced Manchester United teammate.
“Make no mistake, the whole team is happy that Wazza will be available to play again,” he said. “We all want to play, but it’s only going to benefit us to have a player of his proven quality as part of the plans going forward in this tournament.”
But is Rooney’s return being built up too much in the England camp?
The 26-year-old forward hasn’t scored at a major tournament since Euro 2004 _ when he hit four goals as an 18-year-old. He failed to find the net at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Rooney has only scored three goals for his country since a poor tournament in South Africa.
Hodgson remains adamant that Rooney can be England’s “real ace in the hole” having played less than 40 minutes of soccer since United’s last match of the season a month ago _ in a Euro 2012 warmup against Belgium.
“He is very fit and he’s raring to go,” Hodgson said.
The danger is if Rooney is too desperate to make an impact. Then the hot-headed side of his character may emerge in the steaming temperatures of Donetsk.
“He’ll want to make up for time he’s missed and make it up to all the lads,” said winger Theo Walcott, who scored one and set up another against Sweden. “He is such a world-class player.”
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris