James Lawton: Arrival of Rooney offers England only hope of surviving tests to come

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The Independent Football

It was all right in the end. Wayne was back. Peter Crouch came marching through. Steven Gerrard hit a scorching goal. England are ticking along very nicely, thank you every much.

Somewhere along the way it is almost impossible not to believe that something shocking and devastating may come lurching out of the sky. Something like Argentina or Italy or the hugely supported Fatherland.

England will no doubt say that the worst of the crisis is over now. Wayne Rooney made his first steps towards the goal he has set himself so dramatically and fervently these last few weeks - a World Cup in which he will display the kind of brilliance and maturity that promised to make him the star of all of Europe in the championships in Portugal two years ago.

It is a notion that Sven Goran Eriksson will now foster enthusiastically as England attempt to build on this reprieve - for let us be very sure, it is a reprieve we are talking about.

But in the warm, suddenly relaxed night air there was an important point not to be forgotten. It was that Trinidad & Tobago are the smallest nation in this great football carnival. They have played out of their brave skins, but now the real tests will begin.

Waiting for Rooney, a national obsession for some weeks now, took on a new level of yearning when the agony of Michael Owen, who was supposed to be at the cutting edge of England's drive to bring some triumphant meaning to the wasted years of the "golden generation" went up another notch in the first minutes.

In the prime of his menace Owen would have attacked with absolute conviction the chance that came to him when Hislop could only parry a drive by Lampard. For the desperate, frozen moment, however, the prime of Owen was like so much else of the best of English football - it was rooted in some distant corner of the past.

Owen's face was tortured as the opportunity lobbed away but then for a true gallery of despair you had to glance across to the English bench where Eriksson and his already elected successor, Steve McClaren, were soon looking into the kind of chasm that opened up before them in Japan four years ago, when 10 Brazilians frustrated them so easily they might have been re-arranging book shelves in some dusty old library.

The faces on the terraces were not exactly ecstatic, either. They were, but for a pocket of Trinidadians so excited they might have been their favourite native son Brian Lara stroking his way to one of his most spectacular centuries, mostly English faces daubed in white and red, and, progressively, disbelief.

Reality came in harshly at half time when boos followed Eriksson and McClaren to the dressing-room. Stern John had come within an inch of heading Trinidad & Tobago into a lead that would have shocked not only the length and breadth of England but all those parts of the world where the nation is still thought to be a football power.

As it was, Eriksson had to make desperate entreaties for a more aggressive performance in the second half - and some kind of bite in front of goal. With each moment of continued anxiety, the call for Rooney seemed to become more of a formal statement of the obvious. The now officially fit prodigy ran along the touchline early in the second half and it had the effect of an electric current. Peter Crouch, battling gamely but with little encouragement, sent one shot haplessly over the bar, and then soon after Owen missed still another chance. Rooney's name drifted across the stadium which sits behind the old Zeppelin field which floated so many spectacular and tragic dreams all those years ago.

Soon the boos were rising again as the Caribbean team, not content with extending their reputation for resilience, built so dramatically against Sweden at the weekend, began to take the game to England. This was as an astonishing statement that the celebrity might of English football held no terror for the a collection of journeymen pros shaped by the nous of Dutch veteran coach Leo Beenhakker and the adapted midfield craft of Dwight Yorke.

After 58 minutes of one growing futility, Eriksson's thin layer of composure finally snapped. He called in Rooney. He said publicly that his much-heralded team simply couldn't live without him.

Rooney announced himself with a brilliantly insightful ball inside the cover for an overlapping Ashley Cole. When Rooney had the ball there was more than a hint of purpose and bite; it was all the more remarkable that this was the first time he had kicked the ball in anger in 47 days. Rooney could not expect to be anywhere near his best after a broken foot, but his presence alone brought an edge of new belief - at least on the terraces.

This was not the only stunning, team-changing development, however. Aaron Lennon's arrival in place of Jamie Carragher brought a burst of unusually biting activity along the right and suddenly, it seemed England's fears of suffering one of the greatest embarrassments in national football - a rival to defeat by the USA in the 1950 World Cup - at last showed signs of receding.

Lennon stretched the Trinidad defence almost to breaking point as Beckham became a jack-of-all-trades. But the captain did remember the reason why Eriksson had persevered with him all these years. It is to deliver crosses of piercing, defence-stretching bite and he will never send one across more vitally than he did in the 83rd minute.

Crouch met the cross with an authority striven for courageously through the humid night and England had come through one of their most gut-wrenching and self-inflicted trials.

When Steven Gerrard thundered home a second goal - with his left foot - the boos had all flown away on the old sky trails of the Zeppelin.

England were alive again - but then how vibrant will that life be when the tournament begins to get truly serious? It was not the least haunting question on a night that had been mostly about draining pressure, missed targets and, miraculously it seemed, the unveiling of the young man who has become the very heartbeat of his team.

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