LONDON (AFP) - England manager Roy Hodgson has backed Wayne Rooney to put his major tournament disappointments behind him by becoming one of the stars of the 2014 World Cup.
Since exploding onto the international scene at Euro 2004, Rooney has endured a succession of failures at the showpiece competitions, with injury, suspension and poor form preventing him from making an impact.
However, the Manchester United striker, 27, plundered seven goals in England's six final qualifying games to inspire the charge to Brazil, and Hodgson believes he will be ready to make up for lost time next year.
"When Wayne came with us to Euro 2012, he couldn't play the opening games (through suspension), therefore he wasn't probably 100 per cent match fit and the way he was playing then is so different to the way he's playing today, where he's in top, top form and we're seeing the Real McCoy," Hodgson said.
"If the question is, 'Do I believe that Wayne Rooney has got the ability and can do this and can be a star at a World Cup playing for England, playing like he is at the moment?', I would say, 'Yeah, of course I believe it and of course I think he can do it.'"
Hodgson also urged fans to be patient with Andros Townsend following the Tottenham Hotspur winger's stunning introduction to international football in the final two qualifying matches against Montenegro and Poland.
Hodgson became embroiled in a race row after it emerged that he had told a clumsy joke about a monkey in relation to Townsend, who is of mixed-race origin, at half-time of the Poland game on Tuesday, but he subsequently apologised and the Football Association said that it considered the matter closed.
Speaking to journalists before news of that incident emerged, Hodgson said: "When I picked him, his manager (Andre Villas-Boas) said that I was wrong to pick him and I should have called him because he wasn't ready to play international football.
"Suddenly he's gone from that to a world hero in the same class as Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. I think the lad needs a break and I think people need to accept that this has been fantastic, but he's still a young man and he's still learning his trade at the highest level.
"I certainly would want to protect him as best as I can and I'm sure that his manager at his club team will as well." Hodgson will not name his squad for the World Cup for another seven months, but he dropped a clue about the composition of the 23-man party that he will take to Brazil.
Citing his experience as manager of Switzerland at the 1994 World Cup, he said he wished he had "chosen the 17 or 18 players who would play and that would have given me four spots for either youngsters or one or two very good guys who had been a great help to me in getting us qualified in the first place".
Hodgson scoffed at suggestions that the World Cup has been surpassed by the European Champions League as the sport's most prestigious competition.
"I like the Champions League. It's a great competition, but the World Cup is often described in sporting terms as the greatest show on earth," he said.
"To go by the scrutiny that all teams now taking part in these qualifying campaigns have gone through, the agonies that the teams that haven't qualified or are going to have to play-off are going to go through, it would suggest to me that the World Cup is still right up there.
"I think you'll find most top players at the end of their careers, when they're asked what was the best moment, many of them will say it was going to the World Cup.
"Not many of them will be saying it was playing in the group stage of the Champions League against Standard Liege on a Wednesday night."