Rooney rest could help Capello

LONDON - If England coach Fabio Capello had his way Wayne Rooney would do nothing more strenuous than a few daily laps of Manchester United's Carrington training complex between now and the end of the Premier League season.

The striker cannot even manage that at the moment after rolling his ankle against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, an everyday football injury that triggered mass hysteria and gloom over England's prospects at the World Cup in June.

Once news emerged that it was just "minor ligament damage" and the burly 24-year-old would, after all, recover in time to board the plane for South Africa, a collective sigh of relief was heaved across the country.

While United must soldier on without the man who has carried them all season, beginning on Saturday at home to title rivals Chelsea, Capello will be pleased that Rooney can put his feet up after already plundering 34 goals this season.

The pragmatic Capello would probably take any other injury ahead of one to Rooney - the one irreplaceable player in England's squad and the man who strikes fear into world class defenders.

British bookmakers Ladbrokes say that only 50 pounds has been wagered on England for the World Cup since Rooney was hurt in Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg.

"Punters clearly do not fancy a Rooney-less England," Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg said in a news release.

"If the main man is given the all-clear for South Africa we expect the patriotic punt to kick into overdrive."

Four years ago Rooney suffered a more serious injury, a fractured metatarsal, in April and spent the next two months in a desperate race to recover for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.


He returned for England's second group game but was clearly off the pace and ended the tournament with no goals - his frustration boiling over when he was sent off against Portugal as his team tumbled out.

If England are to make an impact in South Africa it is imperative Rooney is fit, rested and firing on all cylinders.

Capello would have watched Rooney's recent inspired and full-bloodied performances with mixed feelings - perhaps even covering his eyes at times.

The striker has been in the best form of his life but his playing style means he is never far from the flying boots and bone-jarring challenges that are the meat and potatoes of the Premier League.

Rooney is likely to be out for three to four weeks but if there is a chance of an earlier return, there is no question he will be chomping at the bit.

Capello, who has already lost David Beckham to an Achilles injury, is sweating on the fitness of Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole and Tottenham Hotspur winger Aaron Lennon, who have both been out with long-term injuries.

However, if they return in the next few weeks and Rooney has four weeks off before playing a couple of end-of-season games for United, England could benefit from having three key players rested and ready for the big kickoff in South Africa.

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