THIRD time lucky? Wayne Rooney certainly hopes so.
Eight years after taking his first steps on the biggest stage in world football, the Manchester United forward is finally looking to make his mark.
For the last decade, Rooney has shouldered the pressure of being England’s most gifted player, but despite a record of 38 goals in 89 appearances, a World Cup goal has so far eluded the Merseyside-born talisman.
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He featured in all eight of England’s matches in Germany and South Africa, but on both occasions the 28- year-old’s displays were blighted by injury or a lack of match fitness.
In 2006, Rooney rushed back from a foot injury sustained in the final few weeks of the Premier League season to make the squad in Germany, but England’s best attempts to hasten his recovery fell short with the striker clearly not up to scratch fitness-wise.
Lightning struck twice four years later when the Three Lions headed for South Africa. Excitement surrounded England and Rooney – who has scored nine times during qualification – heading into the tournament but an ankle injury meant that again, the country’s biggest hope struggled.
It is no coincidence that England have flopped in both tournaments when their leading man has not been 100 per cent, but with his third World Cup approaching, Rooney is optimistic things will be different this time.
While Manchester United suffered their worst league finish since the Premier League started, Rooney still managed a return of 19 goals and despite missing his side’s last three games because of a groin injury, the forward is confident he will be fully fit when England kick off their campaign against Italy in Manaus.
To make sure that is the case, Rooney even enlisted the help of two fitness coaches while on holiday in the Algarve last month with his intent to make this summer’s campaign in Brazil different to his two previous offerings clear. “When you go into these tournaments on the back of a serious injury — as I have in the past — you always want to tell yourself you are 100 per cent back and ready,” he admitted. “But when you have had an injury it’s difficult to do, especially in such a short period of time. Going into those games without playing in the warm-up games, as I have done too often, is difficult. I always want to get my training done, my warmup games, be ready and fresh and not be worrying about anything else. “Previously I have gone into the first game looking for fitness and it’s difficult to get your breathing right and the rest of it. This time I honestly feel good.”