Brazil legend Pele expects England to progress past the group stages at the World Cup while insisting Wayne Rooney would start in any team of his.
Manchester United striker Rooney has failed to score in eight appearances at the World Cup finals and there have been calls for Roy Hodgson to leave him out of the starting line-up.
However, Pele expects Rooney to play a key role and help England reach the knockout stages of the tournament by qualifying from Group D which also contains Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
The 73-year-old, who won the World Cup three times with Brazil, told Sky Sports News: “It is a difficult group but I think England could pass.
“Of course today it is very, very even; the majority of the players play in Europe, like Brazil. Brazil have 11 players playing in Europe. England have a difficult group but I think they could pass.
“The World Cup is a very short tournament and the experienced players always do well.
“Wayne Rooney has not scored [in a World Cup final stage] but he was fantastic for the team. He was always the player who fought more for the team – I would like him in my team, you know!”
Pele is eagerly looking forward to the start of the tournament despite the protests and unrest that have marred the build-up.
He said: “I am very excited. I hope that everything goes OK, everybody knows we have a little political problem but I hope now everything will be OK.
“There are two ways to look at it. I agree; people have to complain about the corruption and the political – no doubt. But, football always was the big promoter of Brazil.
“Since ’58 nobody knew, where was Brazil? Then football brings Brazil there. That I ask of the people, I say: listen. Football always put Brazil at the top.
“The political situation is not our fault; the corruption is not our fault; not the football, not the players, let it be separate. That is my opinion."
There have also been issues with safety and the late completion of some stadiums but Pele expects the tournament to go well.
“I think it will be OK but even that we are a little worried. I think 80%, 90% will be ready but it is not 100% yet,” he said.
“Unfortunately because we had enough time since Brazil won the right to hold the World Cup – we had time enough. Unfortunately those problems were created between construction and political problems, but always we finish very well like we did in the Confederations Cup – the final was fantastic, everything was OK and I hope that the World Cup will be the same.”
Pele also expects the tournament to end on a high with a victory for the hosts in the final, although he feels there are a number of teams capable of performing well.
He said: “Always, always I trust Brazil are going to win the final, it doesn’t matter against who.
“But besides Brazil I see Germany, Germany have a good team. We have to respect Spain because Spain always use the same players. In South America I think Argentina and maybe Chile – Chile have a good team, I saw Chile play and they could be a surprise.”
Brazil forward Neymar is one of the favourites to win both the Golden Boot and be named the best player of the tournament but Pele is not prepared to single out any player at this stage.
He said: “It is complicated to say because I saw several players that are very good, that play in Europe and are already very good – Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo – but the World Cup is a little more complicated.
“You see a player who was fantastic in the league and in the World Cup he is not the same.
“For example in Brazil we have Neymar; everybody knows and will expect Neymar to be a great player, but this is his first World Cup. I think it is too heavy to say to him, win the World Cup, be the best player in Brazil. But he is a good player.”