Hodgson backs Rooney to shine
Roy Hodgson has told Wayne Rooney the stage is set for him to prove he is one of the world's best players this summer.
Much has changed regarding the England squad since the last international fixtures in November.
Raheem Sterling, Adam Johnson, Luke Shaw and Ross Barkley have all improved their chances of making a late surge into Hodgson's World Cup squad.
Andy Carroll has returned from injury, but Theo Walcott's World Cup dreams were dashed when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in the north London derby.
Some things never change, though. The one constant that remains is that the national side are hugely reliant on Rooney and Hodgson knows it.
Rooney remains one of the few England players around these days who can win a match in a second. He is capable of piercing defenses with his power and pace. He can beat a keeper from any number of yards and his work-rate is second to none.
And, luckily for England, Hodgson reckons Rooney is hitting peak form just at the right time for this summer's tournament in Brazil.
"Wayne has taken on responsibility with Manchester United and he always takes responsibility with the national team and I think this has been a great year for him," the England manager said.
"At the moment circumstances seem to be contriving towards England having a Wayne Rooney in top condition physically and mentally, and in terms of his ability - we all know how good that is."
England have relied on Rooney so much over the last 11 years that, barring injury, the striker will almost certainly enter the 100-cap club by the end of 2014.
For someone who is 28, that would be some achievement.
Although Rooney has been a certain starter for England, and a star for Manchester United for many years, the striker is yet to impress at a World Cup.
The 28-year-old famously declared "the big man is back in town" when he attempted to come to England's rescue in 2006, but his metatarsal injury prevented him from having an impact in Germany and Sven-Goran Eriksson's men crashed out on penalties against Portugal.
Then, four years later Rooney lost the plot somewhat, railing at England fans who booed the team off following their bore draw with Algeria in what was a totally underwhelming tournament which ended with a humiliating defeat to Germany.
Hodgson has told Rooney not to let another major tournament pass him by.
The England boss said: "Maybe once or twice in the past he hasn't exploded as maybe he has on our national stage, where we all accept him as being an outstanding player.
"My hope and the message to him is: 'this is your chance'.
"He is 28, that's a terrific age.
"This is the world stage, the perfect opportunity for him to prove to people in the world what we already know - that he is a very, very gifted footballer, a very good all-round footballer who is capable of playing in many positions.
"He is someone who is a leading light in his team which is one of the best in the world.
"It would be nice to see him reproducing that form for England and I am confident he will. It's a great opportunity to show that he is not just a great star in the Premier League, but that he is a world star."
Hodgson thinks Rooney will have benefited from the rest that came with his injury troubles in January.
There are concerns from the England boss about burnout among the rest of his squad, however.
But, although the diminishing pool of English players in the Premier League has not helped Hodgson in one respect - it certainly has in another.
"The players will be exhausted, they will be tired," Hodgson said.
"In the past we've lamented the intensity of our league and how that puts us at a slight disadvantage, but there are 23 Frenchmen playing regularly in the league, 15 Belgians and 14 Spaniards etc, so we're not going to be quite so much alone.
"A few of those players, like Luis Suarez, are not going to be fresher than Wayne Rooney is."