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 By Kevin Palmer

Neville says Rooney still part of plan

England coach Gary Neville has insisted that striker Wayne Rooney remains "a very important player" for his country, despite suggestions that his place in Roy Hodgson's starting line-up is under threat for Thursday's vital World Cup clash with Uruguay.

Rooney has come under fire from the English media and sections of the national team's supporters following his ineffective performance in Saturday's 2-1 defeat against Italy. The Manchester United forward struggled to make his mark in a wide-left role.

Yet Neville has leapt to Rooney's defence, with the former Manchester United full-back insisting his ex-teammate remains a key cog in England's plans as they look to revive their Group D campaign.

"My opinion is that Wayne Rooney, after seeing him every day in training, is a very important player," Neville told the BBC.

"He is our top goal scorer under Roy [Hodgson], he is our main assist man and probably but for a yard he would have been man of the match if he had scored that goal [against Italy].

"We came off the pitch the other night and had our coaching debrief with Roy, Ray [Lewington], Dave [Watson] and myself and there was no other suggestion that Wayne Rooney had played pretty well for us in that game, that he had done everything we asked for.

"You can call it a debate or an obsession about Wayne. I don't think either are wrong because every time I have been part of a tournament I have seen this with a player, whether it be [Paul] Gascoigne, [Michael] Owen, [David] Beckham or Rooney. We love it. The whole country loves creating a drama around one player."

Neville also responded to the comments of his former United colleague Paul Scholes, who is among those to have questioned Rooney's impact in the England team in recent weeks.

"Paul is a great friend of mine but I am coaching Wayne Rooney, I am of the opinion that when you get to a player like Wayne Rooney, you have to cope with everything that is thrown your way," added Neville.

"It wasn't just Paul Scholes talking about Wayne Rooney. The fact of the matter is that it is one man's opinion, it's Paul's opinion and everyone else will have their opinion."

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