This is the best England squad Wayne Rooney has been part of, he says, and one he feels Italy should be scared of.
It is now just two days until the England’s World Cup campaign kicks off a thousand miles up the River Amazon in Manaus.
Italy are the opponents in the Group D opener, two years after they knocked England out of their last match at a major international tournament. An inspired display from Andrea Pirlo helped the Azzurri win their Euro 2012 quarter-final clash, with the fact the match even got to penalties more than a little fortuitous for Roy Hodgson’s side.
Rooney is among the six starters from that game in Kiev to have made it into this World Cup squad – one which the Manchester United striker believes is better than any of the previous four he has been involved with at major tournaments.
“I think it is exciting,” he said. “I think the younger players in the team bring a lot of energy and excitement and it is great to be a part of. I think, probably, it is the best squad of players I’ve been involved with since I’ve been with England.
“It is great to be a part of and I am looking forward to this tournament and the future with England – it certainly looks bright.”
The squad is so good, in fact, that Rooney believes Italy, rather than England, should be the side worrying ahead of Saturday’s encounter. “Well, I think, really, the Italian players should be looking at us and how they can control our team,” he said, ahead of facing the Group D favourites.
“We’re not really too focused on Pirlo. He has been a fantastic player and Italy have got some great players, but we also have them. I think they should really be more worried about our team.
“I think we have [moved ahead of Italy]. The team we’ve got is, not just the team but the squad, is a youthful one, with a lot of energy and excitement.
“In terms of Italy, it is more or less the same squad so it will be an interesting game for us to see how we’ve moved on and how we’ve progressed in those two years.”
It was impressive fighting talk from Rooney, who was pulling no punches in front of a packed press conference at England’s Urca military base.
Another example was when the 28-year-old was told that Manchester United coach Phil Neville felt that talk he should be dropped from the side had turned into a “witch-hunt”.
“I don’t care what anyone says,” Rooney said. “I am ready physically, I am focused and, of course, there is competition for places, there always is. You are playing for your country and I am ready. I am not worried. The manager has got a job to do.
“He picks the team and, whatever side he picks, I’ll respect that and do my best to try to help the team.”
Rooney had the aura of someone fully focused on succeeding, both with England and on a personal level at his third World Cup. The forward has failed to score in his eight appearances on this stage but, on Tuesday, was backed to shine by Brazilian great Pele.
“It is great for him to say that,” Rooney said. “He is one of, if not the greatest footballer. He is a great ambassador for this tournament, especially it being in Brazil, so, yeah, I’m pleased he said that.”
It is a tournament in which Rooney is not only expecting to score a World Cup goal but also replace Michael Owen as England’s fourth-highest scorer of all time.
“Well, I hope so,” Rooney said, sitting one shy of Owen’s 40-goal haul. “If I am going to be successful in this tournament, then I will certainly be looking to pass Michael’s goalscoring numbers. Hopefully, that will be in the next game.”