It was not quite the equal of Pele’s sublime header in the 1970 World Cup final – but after comparing his star man to the brilliant Brazilian, manager Roy Hodgson would have been delighted nonetheless.
In truth, having already failed to take a glaring first-half chance, Rooney could not miss this one as Ukraine keeper Andriy Pyatov failed to gather a dangerous low cross from Steven Gerrard which took two deflections.
From barely a yard, Rooney thus scored his 29th England goal, one behind Nat Lofthouse, Tom Finney and Alan Shearer, who are joint fifth in the all-time list to send England into a quarter-final with Italy in Kiev on Sunday.
Now the Three Lions must hope their talisman quickly joins them as the scent of glory, absent for so long, is now in English nostrils, even if the path is barred not just by Italy, but Germany as well.
Not that England strolled through as some had suggested. The journey to victory had its uncomfortable moments, not least the controversy that once again erupted over a ball that crossed the line but none of the officials saw.
Instead of starting on the front foot, as Hodgson suggested, England found themselves penned back by a relentless tide of Ukraine attacks.
The general relief that greeted Andriy Shevchenko’s absence might not have been so obvious if the talents of Serbian-born Marko Devic were better known.
Devic was at the centre of most Ukraine attacks, had a goalbound shot blocked by Scott Parker and triggering the move that ended with Andriy Yarmolenko stepping inside the box and forcing a low save out of Joe Hart.
Oleh Gusev shot over after being gifted possession by Ashley Young and in the final minutes of the opening period Yarmolenko slalomed his way towards the England goal Ricky Villa style, only for Joleon Lescott to make a very late intervention.
Throughout this, England had been urged to get themselves higher up the pitch by Hodgson’s coaching staff, Gary Neville particularly agitated by the failing.
Yet all the angst would have been removed had Rooney taken his golden opportunity.
For all Hodgson’s assurances to the contrary in recent days, it was evident that after just 37 minutes’ action in 44 days Rooney was lacking sharpness.
The hoped for combination with Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck never materialised and his passing went astray too often.
This would have been forgiven if Rooney had turned Young’s deep cross into the net.
It had been a brilliant move until final execution, started by John Terry’s superb crossfield pass to the left touchline.
Young, producing his most effective performance of the tournament to date, delivered the ball exactly where Rooney would have asked given he had intelligently peeled away from his marker. Level with the far post, the striker tried to glance it home and sent it bouncing wide.
In order to make the contribution Hodgson hoped for, it was evident Rooney required a bit of assistance.
Three minutes after the restart Pyatov failed to clear one of those teasing Gerrard crosses that have been a hallmark of his time in Ukraine. From roughly a yard, Rooney nodded in.
The band that had been banned on their last visit to Donetsk filled the noise vacuum created by the silencing of their hosts and when the big screens at either end of the stadium flashed up news of Sweden’s goal in Kiev a few minutes later, English cheers went up once more.
They would have been silenced had the goal-line technology due to be voted on by FIFA next month already been installed.
But, just as Fabio Capello cursed Frank Lampard’s goal not being awarded in Bloemfontein two years ago, so Ukraine coach Oleh Blokhin now has reason to lament.
To the naked eye, in real time, sympathy has to be afforded to the officials as John Terry hacked Devic’s half-blocked shot away.
To them it can’t have looked over the line. Within 60 seconds, all those millions watching around the world on TV knew it was, the fans in the stadium only left in the dark because the wise decision was taken not to show it to them again.
Shevchenko was introduced for one last hurrah but it was Yevhen Konoplyanka who brought an excellent save out of Hart with a dipping long-range effort.
Welbeck and Rooney were replaced as the clock ran down, whilst Gerrard and Ashley Cole also picked up bookings which may yet come back and haunt them.
Not that such matters should bother them too much tonight.