Wayne Rooney: I have massive role to play for England

The Manchester United star's place in Roy Hodgson's starting XI has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, but he remains adamant he can be integral to the team.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Wayne Rooney insists he still has a "massive" role to play in an England squad he considers the best he has played in.

The Manchester United striker has found his place in the side under scrutiny ahead of Saturday’s World Cup opener against Italy in Manaus, particularly after he was criticized by former teammate Paul Scholes.

Rooney has never scored in eight World Cup appearances but is adamant that he can lead England’s attack in Brazil this summer as an integral part of Roy Hodgson’s youthful squad.

“The future is bright, there’s so much ability in the team,” Rooney said in a news conference at England’s training base in Urca. “The younger players are bringing a lot of energy and excitement to the team. It’s probably the best squad I’ve been a part of with England.

“It’s a joy to be a part of. I still feel I have a massive role to play in the team.”

Rooney said teammate Danny Welbeck will be fit to face Italy on Saturday despite missing training Wednesday with a thigh problem sustained a day earlier.

And the 28-year-old figures Italy should be worried about stopping England in the Amazon jungle, despite the Three Lions’ quarterfinal defeat to the Azzurri on penalties at Euro 2012.

“Danny [Welbeck] will be fine, I’m sure he will be ready for Saturday. He’s just not risked anything today," Rooney said. Italy should be thinking about how to control our team. They have good players but so do we. They should worry about us.

“The target is to try and win the tournament. That’s what we’ve prepared to do. It’s obviously a different set up to 2006 and 2010 but the goal is the same, which is to win it.”