Taking Rooney gamble threatens to overshadow England qualification

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The Independent Online

He has a reputation for being extremely confident, and he once saved the life of a woman on an aeroplane operating with a coat hanger sterilised with cognac, but Professor Angus Wallace faces a challenge this morning of an altogether different magnitude. The Scottish orthopaedic surgeon with an expertise in car safety has to tell Sven Goran Eriksson the state of Wayne Rooney's fitness ­ the England manager, it seems, has already made up his mind the striker is ready to play.

Professor Wallace is not a man afraid to speak his mind and years working his way to the very top of the British medical establishment means that he will not bow to the wishes of Eriksson when his reputation is at stake. Yet, in the end, and this may come as something of a novel experience to such an eminent surgeon, if he says that Rooney is not ready he could well be ignored by Eriksson.

England face Trinidad & Tobago in Nuremberg this afternoon with Eriksson pondering not his first team line-up but one substitution in particular. Whether he plays Rooney or not is a decision that depends on more than the simple factors of form and fitness. The England manager has the potentially unfavourable diagnosis of a specialist to navigate, the wrath of Manchester United to risk and the nervous interventionism of a Football Association who cannot decide whether fielding their best player would be courting catastrophe.

The reign of Eriksson is approaching an appropriately hectic ending: all the Swede can hope for is that it will be the 9th of July, in Berlin, rather than earlier that this dangerous mix of multi-million-pound players, expensive surgeons and football politics comes to a close. The last time the FA became this involved in a World Cup selection matter was 1966 when Alf Ramsey was told not to pick Nobby Stiles after his tackle on France's Jack Simon in the first round ­ he refused and Eriksson has been in an equally rebellious mood of late.

A strange mix of nationality and identity converge in Nuremberg today: the joyful Caribbean support, the vast English following and their eager German hosts all meeting in a place infamous for something Europe would rather forget. The crumbling remains of the Nazi Party rally grounds are an absurd and macabre backdrop to what should be a mismatch between England and a Trinidad & Tobago team of players from Falkirk, Luton Town and Wrexham. And a match in which the most important man of all is on the substitutes' bench.

England could qualify top of Group B today if they win and Sweden draw with Paraguay, and it is typical of Eriksson that even if he achieves that much he could have still have edged closer to chaos by the end of the afternoon. To recap on his handling of the Rooney affair thus far, Eriksson is already in a dwindling group of people who believe that risking the player in the group stages is the right decision.

On 7 June, Professor Wallace stood in a private hospital treatment room surrounded by officials from Manchester United and the FA and told Rooney personally that he did not believe he would be fit in time to play before the last Group B game on 20 June. Eriksson accepted his diagnosis that the fourth metatarsal of Rooney's right foot was mended but declined to take Professor Wallace's advice about the length of the recovery time. Not even United's pressure could bring Eriksson around.

Whether you agree with him or not, the Swede has faced down Sir Alex Ferguson to the extent that United have given up the option to send out a doctor. Professor Wallace flew out to Germany today at the FA's request in one last hope that he can lend medical weight to the militancy of the Swede's opinions and keep their insurance validated.

Trinidad & Tobago was supposed to be the colourful walkover that provided the light entertainment on Group B. Instead, the World Cup debutants led by Dwight Yorke have stolen a precious point from Sweden and then walked straight into the middle of the FA's latest administrative crisis.

But Rooney is not the only selection crisis that Eriksson faced yesterday: Gary Neville walked straight back out of training in the Frankenstadion last night, the pain in his hamstring that had troubled him of late has transferred to his calf. Owen Hargreaves played right-back in the first XI for much of the closed training session, Jamie Carragher filled that position for the set-piece practice. No one could accuse Eriksson of having a team that picks itself any longer.

Anything else to worry about? Training in the Frankenstadion yesterday, the heat of another oppressive German summer afternoon bore down on England. The forecast tomorrow is for some cloud cover but, even as the 6pm local time kick-off approaches, with temperatures at 29C the issue of dehydration becomes as dangerous as ever.

The nation may have struggled to reconcile the aspirations it has for this England team to some aspects of Saturday's second-half performance against Paraguay, but the complexion of the tournament has changed since then. Portugal's narrow victory over Angola, the slender nature of Brazil's win over Croatia and France's desperate draw with Switzerland have all been mitigating evidence to suggest that a 1-0 victory over Paraguay is not quite such a badge of shame.

To reinforce that argument yesterday, Eriksson came armed with statistics. England, he said, he had 55 per cent of possession against Paraguay that compared favourably with Argentina's 49 per cent against the Ivory Coast or that enjoyed by France (51 per cent) and Brazil (50 per cent) in their opening games.

In the Frankenstadion, Rooney struck a shot from 40 yards that clipped the crossbar in a practice match and Eriksson's mind no doubt clicked one notch nearer to giving his player a momentous return. The England manager now seems set on a course from which no one, not even the famous professor, can move him.

Rich man, poor man: The contrast between two midfield rivals

Frank Lampard

Age: 27

Current club: Chelsea

Most recent transfer fee: £11m

Previous club: West Ham United, 1992-2001; Swansea, 1995 (on loan).

English Premier League appearances: 314

Honours: Premiership, 2005, 2006; FA Community Shield, 2005; League Cup, 2005; FA Premier Asia Cup, 2003; Uefa Intertoto Cup, 1998.

International caps: 39

International goals: 10

Collin Samuel

Age: 24

Current club: Dundee United

Most recent transfer fee: £100,000

Previous clubs: Falkirk, 2001-2003

Scottish Premier League appearances: 56

Honours: Scottish First Division, 2003

International caps: 17

International goals: 3

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