Dalglish believes 'strongest ever' England can end 40 years of hurt

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THE mere mention of 1966 by anyone standing within the hallowed confines of Hampden would be considered sacrilegious by many Scottish football followers. When the phrase comes from the lips of the most decorated player in the country's history, however, it is impossible to ignore.

Kenny Dalglish won't exactly be a cheerleader for England this summer, but Scotland's most-capped player has no doubts that Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad are potential winners of the World Cup in Germany.

"It doesn't matter whether I would or wouldn't like them to win it, I think they will do well and could win it," said Dalglish who was back in Glasgow yesterday as part of his remit as McDonald's Head of Scottish football.

It is an ambassadorial role which will also take him to Frankfurt on 10 June where he will attend England's opening Group B fixture against Paraguay. While Dalglish's personal tip to lift the trophy a month later are Brazil, he believes England are one of five other nations capable of upsetting the holders.

"When you are looking at who will become world champions, I think you are looking at Brazil, England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France. I don't think the winner will come from outside that group of countries. I'd say Brazil are definitely the favourites. I think they are everyone's favourite other team and they will be hard to beat.

"I do think England will do well. They have a great squad, probably the strongest they have ever had on paper going into a tournament. To actually be the best squad England have ever had, though, they obviously have to win it to emulate the 1966 squad. I just hope it's an exciting World Cup and I'm sure it will be."

While the English media fret over Wayne Rooney's metatarsal, Dalglish believes it is a player from his beloved Liverpool who is the most vital component of Eriksson's squad.

"I don't think England could replace Steven Gerrard," he said of the Anfield captain and midfield powerhouse. "If Rooney isn't fit, he's just not fit and you have to leave him out. It's the players you do take who are the most important to you.

"I don't know the exact state of play with Rooney's injury, so it's difficult to surmise how much of a gamble it is. All you can do is give him every possible chance before the cut-off point, then he [Eriksson] has to make a decision. He will certainly be given every opportunity, because he is different class as a player."

While Dalglish held court at Hampden, over 400 primary five schoolchildren went through their paces at the fourth McDonald's national coaching festival. The fast food giant's link with the SFA has seen the introduction of over 1,200 new grassroots coaches.

It is a source of optimism for the development of young talent in Scottish football who will hopefully be part of a brighter future for the international team, whose recent improvement under manager Walter Smith earned lavish praise from Dalglish. "Winning the Kirin Cup isn't important to many people," he said of Scotland's success in Japan earlier this month, "but I think it's a significant indication of how things have gone for Scotland under Walter.

"It's gone better than anyone would have expected.

"The strides forward since he took over have been brilliant. I know we haven't qualified for anything yet, but winning that tournament was a testament to the work he has done and it shouldn't be underestimated.

"We have got a beast of a qualifying section for the next European Championship but it's definitely moving in the right direction as far as Scotland is concerned. It's going forward properly, there are a lot more Scottish kids coming through now at first team level and that can only help Walter."

Robson returns

SIR Bobby Robson will return to duty with the Republic of Ireland today after recently recuperating from surgery.

Ireland's international football consultant was given the all-clear following an operation to remove a suspected cancerous growth on his lung.

Robson did not to travel to Portugal for a four-day training camp in the Algarve, but will be at Lansdowne Road watching tonight's friendly against Chile.

"He will be in Dublin," confirmed manager Steve Staunton. "He's very keen and eager to get in for the game, and I will be happy to see him."

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