Steven Gerrard has hailed Wayne Rooney as "currently the best player in the world" and believes it is vital he retains form and fitness if England are to win the World Cup this summer.
Rooney scored his 28th goal of the season in helping Manchester United come from behind to defeat Aston Villa in Sunday's Carling Cup final at Wembley.
And he is set to lead England's attack in tomorrow evening's friendly with African Nations Cup winners Egypt at the same venue, the final game before Fabio Capello announces his provisional squad for South Africa.
Gerrard has known all about Rooney's ability from his days as a teenage sensation at Everton.
And he knows the nation's hopes of winning football's greatest prize will depend to a large extent on his ability to perform at the highest level.
Gerrard said: "For England, I hope Wayne can sustain the way he is playing until mid-July.
"His form this season has been special and I agree with Sir Alex Ferguson in that he is now in that bracket of world class and is up there with the top players in the world.
"From England's point of view, if Wayne can continue that kind of form until the summer he is going to be a key player for us.
"There are a lot of good players in the England squad but, the form Wayne is in, it is vital that we can keep him fit.
"Everyone will have their fingers crossed he can avoid injury and he is fit and in this form going into the World Cup.
"At the moment, on current form, Wayne is the best player in the world, in my opinion."
Gerrard, who has started to show his best form for Liverpool in recent weeks, insists England's bid for World Cup glory will not be derailed by the off-the-field events which have dogged the squad in recent weeks.
Capello has seen a series of headlines involving the likes of John Terry, Wayne Bridge and Ashley Cole since England secured their place in the finals in style by winning nine of their 10 group matches.
The Italian has made it clear in no uncertain terms that he wants his squad to behave on and off the pitch and Gerrard is adamant England will not lose their focus or be distracted from their main goal.
Gerrard said: "Is there any danger of England losing their focus? I don't think so.
"The World Cup is still three months away and, judging by training the last couple of days, the lads all seem focused and looking forward to the game on Wednesday.
"We are all getting really excited because the World Cup is really close and I am sure Fabio will ensure we do not lose our focus.
"But in any case the players have a responsibility to forget about what is getting written off the field and focus on what we can do on the pitch."
Gerrard wants England to send out a message that the squad is united and have a realistic chance of success in South Africa by turning on the style against Egypt, who have climbed to 10th spot in the latest FIFA rankings.
He said: "We've done really well in qualification, winning every game but one, and Wednesday is a fantastic opportunity to show the fans, and everyone around the world we are still united, that we are still one.
"It is a great chance to show we are still a strong team and that we've got a very good chance in the summer of being successful."Reuse content