Hodgson tips Rooney to shine
Roy Hodgson believes Wayne Rooney is ready to make the impact on a major tournament England have waited a decade for.
Not since Euro 2004, when Rooney was a fresh-faced 18-year-old has the Manchester United striker made a positive impression on the biggest stage.
His performances at World Cups have been particularly poor.
Injured just before both the 2006 and 2010 tournaments, Rooney arrived lacking sufficient preparation to do himself justice.
In 2006 he was sent off against Portugal in the quarter-final and four years later snarled his way round South Africa, failing to score a goal and lambasting England's supporters on live TV after a woeful goalless draw with Algeria in Cape Town.
No such concerns exist at the moment.
Rooney has shrugged off a succession of injuries that meant he started Tuesday night's win over Poland still wearing the headband doctors advised to protect the nasty head wound inflicted on him in training by United team-mate Phil Jones.
And in scoring the opener he released the building pressure from a packed Wembley, and extended his own run to nine goals from his last 10 internationals.
If he continues at that rate, he will be closing in on the 11 goals required to match Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time record before England even reach Brazil.
"His performances recently have been crowning glories," said Hodgson.
"They have not just been good performances, they have been decisive because of his goals.
"He is very settled at the moment. He has always been a big fan of playing for England. When he gets the chance to play his motivation is very high.
"He has started well for Manchester United and that bodes well for us.
"Of course, we are not picking a team to play in Brazil in October and a lot of things can happen.
"But at the moment, it is looking very good."
For all the euphoria felt at an outstanding couple of performances by England, Hodgson must know if his side are to make any meaningful impact next summer, Rooney, as one of their few genuine world class stars, must be at the peak of his powers.
England's slide down the rankings means they will not be seeded for December's draw, raising the potential for a pairing with hosts Brazil, Argentina or another of the tournament heavyweights.
In addition, they could find themselves pitted against a dangerous non-seed from another confederation, such as Africa, or the CONCACAF region, from which Mexico have been condemned to a play-off against New Zealand in order to cement their place.
If that was not a tricky enough prospect, there is the simple history lesson that no European team have ever won the game's greatest prize on the American side of the Atlantic.
Spain were thought to have a good chance of ending that record. But they were flattened by Brazil in the Confederations Cup final in June.
"It's pretty obvious we're not favourites," said Hodgson.
"The main contenders are Brazil, Argentina Spain and Germany I guess.
"Is it possible for a European team to win in Brazil? They haven't done yet but anything is possible isn't it?
"No one thought Greece would win the Euros in Portugal or for Denmark to get their players off the beach in 92, but they did.
"Every year it gets that little bit harder to look beyond the favourites but I am pretty sure all the European teams will be hoping to become the first one to reverse the trend.
"We will go with the same attitude."
As Hodgson concedes, the main aim was to be there.
And for that he has Andros Townsend to thank as much as anyone.
Particularly against Montenegro last Friday, the 22-year-old displayed the fearlessness needed to unlock a stubborn defence on a night when there were not so many visiting fans in the stadium to prevent the hosts from feeling tense.
Yet, were it not for the stomach strain that ruled Theo Walcott out, Townsend would have been on the bench at best.
"(Coaches) Ray Lewington and Gary Neville must take a lot of credit," said Hodgson.
"Andros had never shown it at that level. He had spent most of his life travelling around lower league clubs on loan because his own club didn't want to put him in the team.
"But you discuss things and come to a decision.
"There was no Walcott remember.
"We knew he was the right type. Sometimes you are lucky."