Rooney cartwheels into history as England get back on track

England 3 Switzerland 0
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The Independent Football

Cometh the hour, cometh the boy. Just as England's faltering European Championship campaign looked like going the ignominious way of so many previous such excursions, Wayne Rooney produced another explosion of his awesome talent. Not that one can get away with calling Rooney a boy much longer.

For hundreds of years teenagers have arrived here at this ancient university city to study, develop and become adults. Yesterday, Rooney made the journey, in footballing terms at least, in 75 minutes. In doing so the 18-year-old prodigy carved another niche in the game's history and rescued a nervous England side clearly carrying a hangover from their collapse against France.

Rooney scored the 22nd minute goal that settled his team and forced the 75th-minute goal which settled the tie. The ball went in off goalkeeper Jorg Stiel's head, Rooney having thrashed a shot against the post, it should be credited to the goalkeeper but, morally, it was Rooney's goal. Eight minutes from time Steven Gerrard confirmed England's eventual superiority with a third goal. The final scoreline was flattering to England but having been on the receiving end on Sunday that will not worry them. Instead, they hope to take enough confidence from this result to gain the draw required to secure qualification against a dangerous Croatian side in Lisbon on Sunday.

Whether England progress much further remains to be seen. There is still much improvement required before they can be regarded as credible contenders. If the Swiss had finishers of England's quality they might well have won.

Among the issues Sven Goran Eriksson, the England manager, must determine is the best shape of his team. Eriksson stuck, as predicted in these pages, with the flat midfield four. The decision was influenced by the knowledge that the majority of the team are happier with this system, but suggestions that its retention was forced upon the manager appear exaggerated.

Not that the players appeared at ease with it in the opening 15 minutes. All week they had talked the talk but it was soon evident that the horrors of last Sunday would not be so easily erased. Tentative and careless they seemed disconcerted that the Swiss, far from throwing up a five-man midfield and sitting back in anticipation of an English onslaught, played twin strikers and took the game to England.

Bernt Haas, the West Bromwich Albion right-back, gave Ashley Cole an uncomfortable opening and Raphael Wicky and Hakan Yakin saw rather too much of the ball for Eriksson's liking. Switzerland won a series of set-pieces with Gerrard heading onto the roof of his own net from one Hakan Yakin free-kick.

England needed an injection of confidence. Inevitably it came from the ebullient Rooney. The fire within the man-child was initially mis-directed. Breaking onto a Frank Lampard pass he went in too high on Stiel and was booked. It was, surprisingly, his first caution in 15 internationals, a somewhat better rate than he has managed for Everton.

Four minutes later he tore into the tackle again but this time he won the ball cleanly in midfield. England were still deep in their own half but, as the ball was moved from Lampard to Gerrard, Rooney set off down the middle. Gerrard, having laid the ball off to David Beckham, was clattered by Fabio Celestini. With referee Valentin Ivanov playing an excellent advantage Beckham picked out Michael Owen at the far post, he laid the ball back and Rooney headed in before adding a twist with a cartwheel across the Coimbra turf.

His sixth England goal earned another record. He is now the youngest goalscorer in European Championship finals' history, eclipsing Dragan Stojkovic, who was 19 when he scored for Yugoslavia against France in 1984.

The goal worked on England like an elixir. Confidence flowed back into their game and suddenly passes were going to feet, there was movement and interplay. However, with Paul Scholes shooting wide and neither Owen nor Rooney able to reach Cole's low cross England failed to profit from their period of dominance and ended the period worrying again about Hakan Yakin's set-pieces and a free header which Alexander Frei put wide.

Switzerland's inability to finish was again to England's benefit when substitute Daniel Gygax beat David James to a long throw but headed wide. Wicky also went close as England struggled to control the game. Assistance came from an unexpected source. Haas, already cautioned for a foul on Gerrard, piled into Cole after 59 minutes and was dismissed.

Switzerland now had a mountainous task, a goal and a man down with the temperatures still in the high twenties. They persevered bravely, continuing to concern an England team which had not scored a second-half goal in tournament competition since Alan Shearer's winner against Germany in the last European Championship.

That grim statistic was erased when Owen Hargreaves lofted a clearance into the blue sky. Vassell, though marked by two bigger defenders, somehow won it and squared to Rooney. He advanced with intent and drilled the ball in off Stiel.

Only now did the Swiss roll over but England could add just Gerrard's strike, driven in at the far post after a long passage of fine passing concluded with Gary Neville crossing on the overlap.