Wayne Rooney has shrugged off his injury problems and is ready to explode on to the FIFA World Cup™ stage.
By his own admission, England's FIFA World Cup talisman was not quite right at the end of last season. The 24-year-old was rushed back from the ankle injury he suffered in Manchester United's UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich within a week, and just 10 days after that he picked up a groin problem that kept him out for another week before he was pushed back into the fray as the Premier League title race threatened to take a final dramatic twist.
Even during England's altitude training camp in Austria, Rooney has revealed he was forced to hold himself back slightly in order to ensure minor niggles did not develop into anything more serious. Now though, after a relatively quiet performance in Saturday's Group C opener against the United States, Rooney is feeling good again, which is bad news for Algeria ahead of their second game in Cape Town on Friday as he attempts to stamp his mark on the greatest stage.
"This is a great opportunity for me to prove myself at world level," said Rooney. "I look at what Maradona and Pele did. They took the World Cup by the scruff of the neck and virtually won it single-handed. If I can manage half of what they achieved, it would be great.
"It was difficult for me to play as well as I wanted after I got the injury against Bayern Munich. I played when I probably shouldn't and lost my match fitness and sharpness. Even in Austria I had a few niggles and I held myself back in training.
"But since we've come over here I've felt sharp and been flat out. When I was playing well and scoring goals earlier in the season, I was sharp and hungry in training. That is how I feel at the minute."
There is no doubt Rooney is carrying the hopes of a nation. No doubt either he will need to start scoring soon if England are to match the lofty pre-tournament aims of Fabio Capello, who felt his side were capable of reaching the Final. Yet Rooney has not scored since the first minute of that fateful two-legged tie with Bayern Munich, his 34th -- and last -- goal of his most prolific campaign at club level.
In international combat, you have to go back much further, to his effort in England's five-goal thumping of Croatia at Wembley last September, the only time he has scored for his country in the past calendar year. Rooney gives the impression of someone who is not too stressed out by the situation, although the sense remains of a player who really needs to find the target if he is truly to break free of tension and anxiety.
"Of course I want to score," he said. "I don't mind not scoring if we win but I know for us to win, it will be more or less down to me to score the goals, whether it is now or later in the competition."
It is two weeks since England departed for South Africa, since when they have spent all their time in Rustenburg and played just one competitive game. With all 32 sides now under way, the games start to come round with more frequency, which will suit Rooney's nature given Sir Alex Ferguson once remarked the Liverpudlian found it impossible to sit still. It is a minor criticism he accepts, complaining that "lying in bed at two in the afternoon is quite boring".
However, he does accept the need for analysis that goes beyond simply working on the training ground, which is why he spent Saturday night watching a DVD of his performance against the United States.
"There were glimpses but I know I can play better," he said. "I don't worry about it. I watched the game that night. I saw where I should have been, improve positions. It was quite interesting to watch it again and see where I could do better. But anyone can have a quiet game. International football is quite difficult now. We need nine out of the 11 players to do well to win games."