Two members of Brazil's legendary 1970 World Cup-winning side, Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho, believe England have not had a better chance of winning the competition since 1966.
Jairzinho is the only player to have scored in every round of the finals when he and Pele inspired Brazil to glory in the 1970 competition in Mexico. Together with the Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, Jairzinho, Alberto and another Brazilian legend, the goalkeeper Felix, were speaking at yesterday's launch of the British Council's Youth Sports Leadership Exchange Programme, which aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged children in the UK and Brazil over the next three years.
The project involves the establishment of links between schools in Brazil and the UK to encourage the protection of minors and social integration, and will involve football and volleyball tournaments.
Brazil's 4-1 victory over Italy is regarded as perhaps the greatest team performance in a World Cup final and Jairzinho, who scored the third goal in that famous victory, believes England have all the right credentials to go all the way in Germany - even if Wayne Rooney does not kick a ball.
Jairzinho said: "There is much more potential than ever for England to have a good World Cup. It is the first time for a long while we have seen the English team so balanced.
"For me Brazil are favourites, but I like England, Germany, Argentina and Italy. These teams have good players.
"I definitely believe Wayne Rooney is the sensation of the England team but if he does not play, England's chances will diminish a little bit but they still have a very good team."
Alberto, who was also a World Cup winner in 1970 and scored the scintillating fourth goal in the final, believes the key to England's destiny in this year's competition is their belief. Alberto shares Jairzinho's view that England will reach the last four, but insists they must not be scared of meeting the world's best teams.
Alberto said: "In my opinion England can maybe be the big surprise because they have a good and experienced team. Most of the players played in the last World Cup so they have experienced players.
"They will be in the last four of the World Cup with Brazil, Italy, Germany or Argentina. As a Brazilian I should say Brazil will be champions but in the World Cup you never know.
"England have good players and a good team and if they are in good shape they can give Brazil and Argentina a good game.
"But England must not be afraid. Our opinion in Brazil is if you have a good team, then don't be scared. That is the secret."
Alberto believes the World Cup will be a poorer tournament if Manchester United striker Rooney fails to overcome his metatarsal problem to play any part in England's campaign. Rooney was due to undergo a scan on his injury yesterday and Alberto hopes he gets the all-clear.
"Rooney is a very good player and he deserves to play in the World Cup," Alberto said. "I have seen him play several times, twice in the English team. He deserves to play in the World Cup because the competition is the moment when all the best players in the world should be there. All the best players must be in Germany, especially Rooney."
Caborn has added his voice to those who believe England can overcome the loss of Rooney if he fails to recover in time. Caborn said: "Everybody has said, and I agree, we are probably sending the strongest squad we've had since 1966. Speaking to the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, he believes there is a very, very good chance of us winning the World Cup.
"Injuries are always a problem as we have seen with Wayne Rooney and we'll have to see how that heals. But I would not discount us if he does not play. In the Cup final we saw players like Steven Gerrard prove they can really rise to the occasion. Talking to players like Jairzinho, Felix and Carlos Alberto Torres - they know we have a very strong side and respect us.
"We will have to overcome Rooney's absence if he is not fit but this is a team that has been working together since the last World Cup. Let's get behind the team and help them bring back the trophy."Reuse content