14/06/2014 13:37

Rooney and Kagawa are key

Manchester United Academy graduate Danny Higginbotham, now a respected pundit, has been assessing the World Cup squads with Reds in their ranks. Here, he turns to Japan and England as they prepare to kick off their campaigns on Saturday night against Ivory Coast and Italy respectively.

If I was Japanese, I'd be happy to have been put in a group with Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast. Even though the other three teams are above them in the FIFA world rankings, I believe Japan have got a good chance of going through to the next round.

A lot of emphasis will be placed on United's Shinji Kagawa - he's a talisman for them and I expect his energetic team-mates will work hard to give him the ball, so that he can go forward and create the magic. I think the winner of Japan's final match against Colombia will qualify with Ivory Coast. Greece, as the only European team in this group, may struggle the most in the conditions.

As for England, I think the key to them qualifying is how and where Wayne Rooney plays. I would select him as the lone striker ahead of an attacking three. He's one of the best there is for that difficult job of playing with his back to goal, while Daniel Sturridge is much better facing the goal.

Wayne loves to drop deep and if he does that, taking a centre-back with him, it will leave yards and yards of space in behind for the likes of Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling to exploit. For the first time I can remember at a major tournament, England have an abundance of players with electric pace. I just hope Roy Hodgson uses them correctly, takes their shackles off and doesn't hinder them with his set-up.

For the opening match, I think England should take the game to Italy because even if Andrea Pirlo still dictates the play, he'll have to do it further back from where he wanted to. His forty-yard pass then becomes a sixty- or seventy-yard pass and more difficult to pull off.

The full version of this article, looking at all of the World Cup squads with Reds stars, first appeared in United Uncovered, our official email newsletter.

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