Wayne Rooney will return to the fold against Ukraine on Tuesday convinced that England are contenders to win Euro 2012 and intent on making amends for the previous personal traumas he has endured at major tournaments.
The Manchester United striker, whose only senior football since the end of the Premier League season was a 36-minute cameo against Belgium this month, has completed a two-match ban for kicking Miodrag Dzudovic during the qualifying draw in Montegnero last October and will start the final Group D fixture in Donetsk. England, who will check on Theo Walcott's fitness after he withdrew from training on Sunday with a tight hamstring, need to avoid defeat against the co-hosts to progress into the quarter‑finals where a potential meeting with the holders, Spain, awaits.
Yet even that prospect does not daunt Rooney, who has been heartened by the impact made by Roy Hodgson since the 64-year-old's appointment as manager. "I think we're good enough [to win it]," he said. "We've got the players to. I know, obviously, everyone doesn't want us to build up expectations but I firmly believe that we've got the players. Obviously, you need a bit of luck as well but I believe we've got a good opportunity. We've always believed.
"We have to be confident going into the Ukraine game. We've got big belief in ourselves and know we're good enough to get through the group stage. Beyond that, you have to play the best teams if you want to win tournaments and how much of a boost would it be for us if we did play Spain and beat them? How much confidence would that give us? You have to play those teams to win tournaments whether it's quarter-finals, semis or final, we have to just cope with that.
"But before the tournament started I said a country like ours needs to be in there with a shout of winning major tournaments and I firmly believe that. We've got the squad, we're more organised than we ever have been as long as I've been in the squad, and we are hard to beat now. If we keep doing that and keep working hard then there's no reason we can't go really far and be in with a shout of winning it."
Rooney was initially banned for the entire group stage of Euro 2012 after his act of petulance - "It was a mistake," he conceded – in Podgorica, only for the Football Association's appeal, led by the former manager Fabio Capello, succeeding in reducing the ban from three to two matches. Had Uefa not trimmed the suspension the striker feared he might have been omitted from the travelling party. Instead he now has an opportunity to make amends for this and other disappointments.
The 26-year-old's last goal in a major finals came in the group stage of Euro 2004, his breakthrough tournament, with his impact at the last two World Cups desperately underwhelming. He had travelled to Germany in 2006 unfit after a metatarsal injury and, frustrated at his inability to excel, was sent off in the quarter-final against Portugal for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho. Form deserted him again in South Africa two years ago, his mood summed up by his reacting angrily to boos from England supporters as he departed the field after the goalless draw with Algeria in Cape Town.
"I set myself high standards," said Rooney. "I work hard to better my game and score goals. In international tournaments I haven't been good enough. I hope I can put it right. I am not going to say I will because you never know what is going to happen. But hopefully, if I can do that, it gives the team a good chance of going far in this competition. My last goal in a tournament was at Euro 2004 but I feel I'm a better player now and capable of more. I feel there's more to come from me in a tournament."
Rooney is likely to be paired with his United club-mate Danny Welbeck, at the expense of Andy Carroll, given the understanding the pair have struck up at Old Trafford. The duo have started 22 games together for their club in all competitions, scoring 33 goals between them with Rooney mustering 24.
One of them has scored in each of the last 15 matches they have started together. "We have a good understanding," said Rooney. "We have worked on the training pitch as well, which is important in understanding the player's movement and his touch, so it is an option for the manager."