It was not quite the equal of Pele's sublime header in the 1970 FIFA World Cup™ final - but after comparing his star man to the brilliant Brazilian, manager Roy Hodgson would have been delighted nonetheless. In truth, having already failed to take a glaring first-half chance, Rooney could not miss this one as Ukraine keeper Andriy Pyatov failed to gather a dangerous low cross from Steven Gerrard which took two deflections.
From barely a yard, Rooney thus scored his 29th England goal, one behind Nat Lofthouse, Tom Finney and Alan Shearer, who are joint fifth in the all-time list. Now the Three Lions must hope their talisman quickly joins them as the scent of glory, absent for so long, is now in English nostrils, even if the path is barred not just by Italy, but Germany as well.
"It was a very good defensive and disciplined performance," England coach Hodgson said. "We could have shown some more composure on the ball but we are a fledgling team and we can work on that part."
England captain Gerrard was satisfied that they had achieved their target of topping the group. "It was a difficult group and our aim was to win it. Its fantastic that we have done," he said. "Wayne Rooney's goal shows how important he is to the team. He adds something different and a cutting edge and can score goals from anywhere."
Not that England strolled through, as some had suggested they might. The journey to victory had its uncomfortable moments. Instead of starting on the front foot, as Hodgson suggested, England found themselves penned back by a relentless tide of Ukraine attacks.
The general relief that greeted Andriy Shevchenko's absence might not have been so obvious if the talents of Serbian-born Marko Devic were better known. Devic was at the centre of most Ukraine attacks, had a goal-bound shot blocked by Scott Parker and triggering the move that ended with Andriy Yarmolenko stepping inside the box and forcing a low save out of Joe Hart.
Oleh Gusev shot over after being gifted possession by Ashley Young and in the final minutes of the opening period Yarmolenko slalomed his way towards the England goal, only for Joleon Lescott to make a very late intervention.
Throughout this, England had been urged to get themselves higher up the pitch by Hodgson's coaching staff, Gary Neville particularly agitated by the failing. Yet all the angst would have been removed had Rooney taken his golden opportunity.
For all Hodgson's assurances to the contrary in recent days, it was evident that after just 37 minutes' action in 44 days Rooney was lacking sharpness. The hoped-for combination with Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck never materialised and his passing went astray too often.
This would have been forgiven if Rooney had turned Young's deep cross into the net. It had been a brilliant move until the final execution, started by John Terry's superb cross-field pass to the left touchline. Young, producing his most effective performance of the tournament to date, delivered the ball exactly where Rooney would have asked given he had intelligently peeled away from his marker. Level with the far post, the striker tried to glance it home and sent it bouncing wide.
Lucky bounces, Rooney finish
In order to make the contribution Hodgson hoped for, it was evident Rooney required a bit of assistance. Three minutes after the restart Pyatov failed to clear one of those teasing Gerrard crosses that have been a hallmark of his time in Ukraine. From roughly a yard, Rooney nodded in.
The England fans filled the noise vacuum created by the silencing of their hosts and when the big screens at either end of the stadium flashed up news of Sweden's goal in Kiev a few minutes later, English cheers went up once more.
The hosts will have felt aggrieved shortly after, as Devic's shot from just inside the penalty area was blocked by Joe Hart and then clawed away from the goalline by John Terry. The Ukraine fans and coaching staff thought the ball was in, but the referee was unmoved.
Shevchenko was introduced for one last hurrah, but it was Yevhen Konoplyanka who brought an excellent save out of Hart with a dipping long-range effort. Welbeck and Rooney were replaced as the clock ran down, whilst Gerrard and Ashley Cole also picked up bookings which may yet come back and haunt them.
Not that such matters should bother them too much tonight.