Roy Hodgson will restore Wayne Rooney to England's lineup for Tuesday's critical Group D game against Ukraine with no qualms over the striker's match sharpness and confident he is in the right frame of mind to propel the national team into the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
The England manager is expected to drop Andy Carroll to the bench to pair Rooney, who has now served his two-match ban for kicking out at Miodrag Dzudovic during the qualifying draw in Montenegro last October, with his Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck. Yet Hodgson suggested he will consider using Welbeck "more sparingly" in the future, an indication he still has a key selection decision to make despite the youngster's fine late winner in Friday's encouraging victory over Sweden.
Hodgson will only finalise his team on the eve of the game in Donetsk, but Rooney will definitely start as he aims to leave a more positive impression on this tournament than he did in either of the last two World Cups. "Wayne's a quality player, a world-class player," he said. "His ability is a bit special. You're lucky if you're a manager of a national team to have players of his quality available. Hopefully, he'll make life that bit easier for us going into the next game when we need another result."
Rooney has trained fully with the squad since linking up with Hodgson's party ahead of the pre-tournament friendly against Belgium and has recovered from the minor toe injury with which he played over the final few weeks of United's domestic season. Yet the 36 minutes he enjoyed against the Belgians at Wembley represents his only game-time since the last day of the Premier League campaign on 13 May, raising doubts over the player's match fitness.
Asked whether it was unfair to expect too much of the forward on his first outing back in the side, Hodgson said: "This is part of being a top, top player in an important national team. If you are Sweden it's [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, if it's Ukraine I'm sure it's [Andriy)]Shevchenko. If it's England it's about Rooney and [Steven] Gerrard and if it's France it's about [Franck] Ribéry and [Samir] Nasri. You trust these players who have put up with this kind of pressure in their lives for a long time, and that they know how to deal with it.
"Wayne won't need reminding if he plays well on Tuesday everybody will be saying fantastic things about him. If he misses a chance or two people will say other things. As a coach you can't protect him, but the players know their job. I'm not worried about his fitness. He will be raring to go. I've been impressed with him around the place. He's not been like a caged animal, but just a very good professional. His training performances have been first class, and he's been encouraging all the players and backing them up. But, of course, he wants to play football. The quality and the desire are there for all to see."
Hodgson is still determining whether or not to hand Theo Walcott his first start in a tournament this week after the winger's introduction as a substitute against Sweden transformed the occasion. James Milner could yet retain his place on the right given England need only avoid defeat in Donetsk to secure their place in the last eight of the competition. The manager's concerns over Welbeck were expressed more with the long term in mind, and a desire to shield the 21 year old from the spotlight after his cutely taken goal on Friday.
There is a logic to selecting Welbeck and Rooney, with Ashley Young as a supply line, given the trio have operated together at club level last season. "Danny's had a wonderful season and I'm sure Sir Alex Ferguson has high hopes for him," said Hodgson.
"He's done pretty well to break into a team like United and I am happy with the progress he is making. But before we start building him up too much, we should remember he has a lot of work to do and a lot of time ahead. Hopefully, with the quality of players we have, I'll be able to use him in the same way Sir Alex has done, a little bit sparingly, from time to time."
There is an acceptance among the Ukraine squad that a difficult evening awaits in Donetsk, with the co-hosts needing to win to prolong their stay in the tournament.
"England are definitely one of the most dangerous teams here," said Shevchenko. "They had a good result against France and they beat Sweden, so they've had a great start. We'll have to play much better than we did against France if we want to beat them."
England have announced they will play Italy in Berne in August and, as part of the Football Association's 150th anniversary celebrations, will welcome Scotland to Wembley next year. The Scots will visit on 14 August, 2013 with the Scotland manager, Craig Levein, describing the fixture as "the ultimate contest". The two nations have not met since 1999, when the visitors won 1-0 at Wembley. The game against the Azzurri, scheduled for 15 August in Switzerland, will be the national team's first of next season ahead of World Cup qualifiers in September against Moldova and Ukraine.