Gilberto Silva backs Wayne Rooney for World Cup glory
Gilberto and Nilmar battle with Rooney during England's defeat to Brazil in Doha
By Sam Lyon
Brazil midfielder Gilberto Silva says Wayne Rooney can lead England to World Cup glory in South Africa.
Critics believe the furore over Wayne Bridge and John Terry, plus an injury to Ashley Cole, have seriously dented England's chances in the tournament.
But Gilberto, a World Cup winner, told BBC Sport: "Off-field problems are a concern but, with Rooney, England can go a long way in South Africa.
"Year on year, Rooney becomes better and better. He is a top player."
Gilberto, who was talking ahead of Brazil's friendly against the Republic of Ireland at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, said: "In Brazil, we watch Rooney very closely.
"With the experience that he is gaining, I'm sure he can do a lot for England this summer."
England's preparations for the World Cup, which get under way in just over 100 days' time, have been hit by allegations of an extra-marital affair between Terry and Bridge's former girlfriend. Terry was later sacked as England captain.
Ashley Cole's private life has also been the subject of intense media speculation, cumulating in the break up of his marriage to singer Cheryl Cole.
Both cases prompted England coach Fabio Capello to warn his players they face exclusion from his World Cup squad if they are caught misbehaving off the field.
On the field, Capello's plans for the tournament have not been helped by a serious an ankle to Chelsea left-back Cole.
Bridge was the obvious choice to replace him, but the Manchester City player decided to end his international career in the wake of his fall-out with Terry.
Despite the setbacks, Gilberto, who won the Premier League title and two FA Cups during his six years at Arsenal, is convinced England will be a main contender to win the trophy in South Africa.
"As a possible opponent of England we cannot focus on that [the off-field problems] and think that this kind of thing can disturb them," said the midfielder, who played for Brazil in the team's 1-0 win against England in a friendly in Qatar in November 2009.
Gilberto spent six years with Arsenal and has 75 international caps
"England have a very strong squad, a very strong team, and they can go far in South Africa, we know that. "
Gilberto, who now plays for Panathinaikos, added: "It will be a tough tournament for everyone who wants to win and every side will have to fight for it."
However, the key to their progress is Rooney, says the Brazilian.
The 24-year-old striker has scored 29 times this season for Manchester United and England, and has been the standout player in United's push for the Premier League title and Champions League glory.
He hit the winner as Sir Alex Ferguson's side saw off Aston Villa to win the Carling Cup on Sunday.
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