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English Premiership

Rooney will shine-Gilberto

LONDON, March 2 – Brazil star Gilberto Silva believes Wayne Rooney's recent form makes England genuine title contenders at this year's World Cup finals in South Africa.Manchester United striker Rooney has been superb for Manchester United this season and it was his header that saw Sir Alex Ferguson’s side beat Aston Villa 2-1 in the League Cup final at Wembley on Sunday.

"Of course, we look at Rooney very closely, especially if we have to face England," said 33-year-old Gilberto, who could be playing against England in the semi-finals in South Africa, on Monday.

Gilberto, in London for a friendly against the Republic of Ireland at the Emirates Stadium – the home of his former club Arsenal – on Tuesday, said Rooney was now on a par with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Lionel Messi.

"You can say he is at the same level as them. He is doing very well. Year by year, he becomes better and better by the experience that he is getting over the years and I am sure he can do a lot for England this summer."

England, who face Egypt in a Wembley friendly on Wednesday, have been rocked by the allegations surrounding John Terry’s alleged extra-marital affair with the ex-girlfriend of former team-mate Wayne Bridge.

The fallout has seen Terry stripped of the England captaincy by manager Fabio Capello and Bridge declare himself unavailable for international duty.

But Gilberto said of England’s off-field problems: "I think that is a concern but we cannot, as a possible opponent of England, focus on that and think that this kind of thing can disturb them.

"England is a very strong squad, a very strong team. We know that. Some of the England players are in very good form. They can do a lot in South Africa.

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"It will be a tough tournament for everyone who wants to win. We will fight for it."

Meanwhile Brazil are in the process of planning to win their sixth World Cup and Gilberto – a member of the 2002 World Cup winning side – said the Ireland game would serve as a useful stepping-stone.

"Ireland will be a good test for the team. For sure, we want to finish this preparation before the last weeks to keep our confidence very high," said Gilberto, who plays his club football for Greek side Panathiniakos.

"Every day, we feel very anxious because we come closer and closer but it’s important for every one to keep doing the job in the right way, prepare in our clubs and then we will not lose time when we get there."

This will be the Republic’s first match since France star Thierry Henry’s handball helped condemn them to a playoff defeat that meant they failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup finals.

"I feel sorry for the way they didn’t qualify and the way they were knocked out," Gilberto said. "But sometimes these things happen and even though they aren’t there, it will be a tough game and a tough opponent for us."

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