Paper Round: England's Pele

Wayne Rooney dominates both back and front pages of Tuesday's papers, with a terrifying amount of pressure being heaped on the 26-year-old striker ahead of his return to action in tonight's Euro 2012 encounter with Ukraine.


"Red White and Roo," is the headline on the front page of the Daily Star, while The Sun goes all Roger McGough with its, "Cane Ukraine, Wayne, and avoid Spain pain," referring to the need to bury the co-hosts if England are to overtake France on goal difference and thereby top Group D.

Several papers refer to Rooney as the new Pele, based on a couple of quotes from England boss Roy Hodgson.

The Times bangs the drum loudest, saying that Hodgson's faith in Rooney was already evident with his earlier confirmation that the striker will be drafted straight into the team, but claiming that "the Pele comparison takes such special treatment to a different level".

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Hodgson didn't actually compare Rooney to Pele, incidentally: he just said that he hopes Rooney, as England's talisman, can raise his game for his national side as the Brazilian genius did while inspiring his country to three World Cup victories. That's a very different thing.

The Sun treats those quotes much more honestly, incidentally, ("Roo be my new Pele" is its back page headline) while other papers take a more direct approach to cheerleading for the side against Ukraine.

"Wayne's eyes on the prize" is the back page headline of the Daily Express, which runs alongside a moody and atmospheric picture of the striker staring down the camera lens. Context is everything, of course, and the pic looks good - but if you turned it black and white and blurred it a bit then it'd be an ideal image to use on an episode of Crimewatch.

Will all this drum-banging raise expectations? Probably - but Roy Hodgson appears to want it that way. The Daily Mirror picks up on the manager's assertion that, "Dreaming is what football is about," welcoming the transformation from a nation expecting their men to be sent straight back after three matches to one that is looking forward to enjoying an agonising quarter-final defeat at the hands of Spain.

The Daily Telegraph's Paul Hayward even uses this to heap further pressure on the England side, with the second unlikely comparison of the day: "Unlike any England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey, Hodgson aims to deliver more than the nation expects," he writes. Before you get too excited about that reflection, the facts actually refute Hayward's view: England actually went into the 1966 World Cup among the favourites and off the back of just one defeat in 21 matches in the previous two years. Expectations were indeed high.

Ukraine's papers have a more fatalistic view, with Fakty leading their coverage on Andriy Shevchenko's 50-50 chances of playing, and quoting the team's coach Oleg Blokhin saying that his side can relax and enjoy the match since even if they lose they "won't have to bury their heads in the sand".

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Over on the continent, L'Equipe's headline asks its French side for the "Same again, please" against Sweden as they produced against Ukraine, with the paper claiming that Franck Ribery's irrepressible form has helped him get the side's confidence back to where it was at the 2006 World Cup.

Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport thrills at the Azurri's progress into the quarter-finals, praising their victory against Ireland as a result won "with merit and with heart".

Spain's AS, meanwhile, strikes a note of relief with its headline "Primeros con sufrimento" - or "First, but with suffering" - thanking Jesus Navas for "relieving the anguish of Spain, who did not play well", and thanking Iker Casillas for "performing a miracle" to stop Croatia winning the match.

It seems that those changing expectations are more than just an English phenomenon.

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