Euro Icons – 2004: When Wayne Rooney had the world at his feet

Across what would have been Euro 2020, we are running a series on the players who defined each of the European Championships from 1972-2016 – and beyond that, left their imprint on modern football. Next up: Wayne Rooney’s stunning emergence at Euro 2004.

In the 22nd minute of the 2004 European Championship quarter-final in Lisbon, England’s David James banged a long ball over the top of the Portuguese defence for Wayne Rooney. As he had done all tournament, Rooney instilled panic in the opposing defence. Portugal’s centre-half Jorge Andrade came across to cover but was beaten to the ball. As the two players came together, Andrade accidentally trod on the side of Rooney’s right foot. It caused Rooney’s boot to fly off, but he played on until the referee Urs Meier gave a free-kick to Portugal.

It had seemed an innocuous moment; within a minute, Rooney was down and in obvious pain. His team-mate Frank Lampard put the ball out so that Rooney could receive treatment. “The nation will hold its breath here,” said BBC commentator John Motson. England were 1-0 up, with one eye on the semi-finals and much more than that lurking in the backs of their minds. Rooney, the unstoppable force of nature, had been stopped in his tracks. He tried to play on for a couple of minutes, but it was futile. A metatarsal bone – the bane of English international players in the noughties – had fractured in his right foot. Euro 2004 was over for Rooney, and he was replaced by Darius Vassell.

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Portugal eventually won an absorbing match on penalties after a 2-2 draw. Some in England cried robbery after referee Urs Meier disallowed a 90th minute goal by Sol Campbell that would have won it; critics pointed to England’s error-prone goalkeeper, the self-inflicted wound of Rio Ferdinand’s suspension for missing a drugs test, conservative tactics by manager Sven-Göran Eriksson and a hopelessly imbalanced midfield. One thing that was hard to deny was that, before he tangled with Andrade, Rooney had been in the kind of form that might have overcome any and all imperfections.

The boy wonder

Wayne Rooney relaxes in Portugal

Image credit: Getty Images

That summer Europe found out what people had known in England for two years. Right from the moment that Clive Tyldesley screamed “Remember the name!” over his iconic debut goal as a 16-year old for Everton against Arsenal in 2002, Rooney’s rise had made the term meteoric seem understated. The goal made him the youngest player to score in the Premier League at the time. He quickly followed that by becoming the youngest player to play for England and the youngest player ever to score for England. Rooney did all of that before his 18th birthday; British football hadn’t seen a prodigy quite like this since Norman Whiteside.

Precocious record-setting was not their only similarity. As with Whiteside, Rooney was physically awesome. He didn’t need to fill out;…

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