England's hopes rest on Rooney

If the World Cup is a music festival featuring the world's best rock bands then there can only be one headline act. Ladies and gentlemen, the English national team.

Manchester United star is the driving force behind the English attack

Forward Wayne Rooney, middle, will lead the line for England at the World Cup in South Africa. ((Matt Dunham/Associated Press))

If the 2010 World Cup is a music festival featuring the world's best rock bands then there can only be one headline act, the one group that garners more global attention than any of the 32 acts scheduled to perform in South Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen, the English national team.

Think of defenders John Terry and Rio Ferdinand as Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, the rhythm section who provide the team its structure with a backbeat of steady play at the back.

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are Keith Richards and Ron Wood, the guitar-slinging heroes in midfield who supply the melody.

And the lead vocalist and charismatic front man in this rock band? No question about: Wayne Rooney.

"England without Wayne Rooney would be like the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger. Actually, you could probably replace Jagger but you can't replace Rooney," Henry Winter, chief soccer correspondent for The Daily Telegraph newspaper in England, told CBCSports.ca.

At 24, Rooney is regarded as one the best and most lethal forwards in the world, striking fear into the hearts of opposing defenders with his speed, drive, strength and deft dribbling ability.

The Manchester United whiz is a key player for both club and country, helping the Reds sweep all before them in the Premiership and in Europe two years ago, and bagging a team-leading nine goals for England in the recent World Cup qualifiers.

Rooney is a major reason why the English team is being touted as one of the tournament favourites, but if the Manchester United star gets injured or falls into a scoring slump in South Africa, the World Cup could turn out to be England's Altamont.

"If England are to have any chance of reaching the latter stages of the World Cup, let alone win the tournament, they need Rooney to be dominant," offered CBC Sports soccer analyst Jason de Vos.

"He is capable of scoring goals as well as creating them, but it is his determination to win that could be most essential for England."

Indeed, Rooney's will to win is a key asset for England, but in the past he's let his emotions get the better of him — he famously was red carded at the 2006 World Cup for stamping on Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho.

To his credit, Rooney has calmed down since then, and got a better handle on himself.

"In the past he has been guilty of letting his emotions get the best of him in games, and he has come across as immature and petulant," de Vos said. "As he has matured, Rooney has become better at hiding his emotion and channelling his energy into his game, where it is most effective."

Where it is most effective is in front of goal. Problem is Rooney, with 25 goals in 58 games for the Three Lions, is England's only forward with a proven goal-scoring record at international level.

"When he is on form, Rooney is one of the most dangerous strikers in the world. The worry for England, though, is that there really isn't anyone else who is capable of picking up the slack if Rooney is having an off day," de Vos stated.

"The truth is, if Rooney is injured or off form, England will need plenty of goals from midfield, because there won't be many from the other strikers."