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Wayne Rooney: A new haircut and a restored sense of purpose
Richard Williams at St Jakob Park, Basle - 3 years ago

Hair cropped and stubble removed, Wayne Rooney took the field last night looking like he meant business. That personal grooming decision, and the markedly slimmer silhouette that seems to speak of a rigorous pre-season fitness regime, gave him a closer resemblance to the stocky but slippery 18-year-old who terrorised the Swiss in Coimbra during the Euro 2004 finals than to the shambling nonentity of this summer's South African debacle.

Six years ago Rooney scored twice in that 3-0 victory as England progressed to the second of their three quarter-finals under Sven-Goran Eriksson. Last night he, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard were the only survivors of Eriksson's team. What changes, in every sense, he has been through since Europe first sat up and took notice of the young striker's startling gifts and extraordinary self-confidence.

At 17 Rooney had a complete understanding of the game's fluid geometry. Like Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne, he carried the entire movie in his head, running a few frames ahead of the real-time action. His imagination was boundless, his dynamism unquenchable, his touch impeccable, his every movement seething with dangerous intent.

? Match report: Switzerland 1-3 England ? Gerrard hails 'terrific' Rooney in England win? Paul Hayward: Why so much has changed for Capello ? Dominic Fifield: Five things we learned about England ? In Pictures: The best moments from the game

It was after he started to be featured in the news pages of the tabloids that he turned into a creature of mood, displaying fluctuations of temper that appeared to have little to do with events on the field. Last night he was being scrutinised with extra intensity by those who feared that the latest revelations about his private life might affect his performance on the field, particularly since he had shown improved form in a creative role in Friday's defeat of Bulgaria, when he played a part in all four goals.

He had told Fabio Capello on the plane to Basle on Monday that he felt ready to make a full contribution to the game, and once the match had started the proof was not long in coming. It took the form of his first international goal in 12 games, two days short of a year since his contribution to the 5-1 defeat of Croatia at Wembley. This was also the first time he had scored in 11 starts alongside Jermain Defoe ? another nasty little statistic to be consigned to the bin, although one that had already seemed less important since the pair combined for three of England's four goals against Bulgaria. It was also his first goal in open play for anyone, club or country, since 30 March.

The credit for creating the opportunity to end his barren run went to Theo Walcott and Glen Johnson, the winger sending the full-back down the right flank with a fine pass. As Johnson prepared to pull his delivery back across the goalmouth, Walcott hared into the middle, where he and Defoe both ran across the ball and took the defenders with them to allow Rooney the time and space to race in and hammer the ball with lethal conviction.

There was no celebration, but his reticence probably had less to do with matters off the pitch than with the injury Walcott suffered while playing his part in the goal. As the winger fell to the ground, the referee signalled immediately for a stretcher. Rooney and Defoe were quickly across to show their concern for their stricken team-mate.

For all the excellence of Adam Johnson, Walcott's replacement, England missed the Arsenal man's speed. Rooney, however, continued to do good work, even if it was constantly evident that he has yet to regain his full measure of confidence. At the moment there is an unfamiliar lack of instant control when he receives the ball with a defender in close attendance, and a strange looseness when he opts to shoot from long range.

Midway through the first half, however, there was a chip delivered over the defence with delightful inventiveness only for Diego Benaglio, the Swiss goalkeeper, to reach the ball a fraction of a second ahead of Defoe. In the two minutes before the interval there were two balls floated from the left with Defoe as the target, the first encouraging the Spurs man to throw three defenders off balance before unleashing a sudden shot that Benaglio beat away, while the second, chipped from the byline with the goalkeeper stranded, saw Stéphane Grichting make a vital interception.

Rooney opened the second period with a promising move, making ground in the inside-left channel before aiming a diagonal cross towards the unattended Adam Johnson on the right, only for a first-time volley to fly harmlessly wide. The Manchester City player would make up for it later.

Switzerland, surprisingly inert in the first half, showed greater spirit after the interval, particularly once they had been reduced to 10 men. Rooney foraged and prompted in the playmaker's role until his substitution with 10 minutes to go, never quite rekindling the flame of his very best days but labouring diligently enough to ward off any suggestion that his mind might have been elsewhere.

This is comment. GNM does not necessarily support the views expressed.

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