Steven Gerrard says England have overcome their Wembley fear factor
Victory against Poland would see off the threat of Ukraine and guarantee World Cup qualification
England’s manager Roy Hodgson watches a training session ahead of their World Cup qualifyier against Poland.
Steven Gerrard believes England have successfully tamed the fear factor that once undermined them in critical contests at Wembley Stadium and he will lead the side out against Poland tonight hoping to become “the proudest man in the country” by securing a place at the World Cup finals.
A victory for Roy Hodgson’s team against the Poles, a side ranked 65 in the world who languish in fourth place in Group H with no chance of qualification, will stave off the threat posed by Ukraine and guarantee English progress.
Gerrard’s psyche has been scarred by England’s loss to Croatia at the national stadium six years ago, a defeat which he will “take to the grave” and which cost Steve McClaren’s side a place at Euro 2008.
The captain has spoken to the younger members of the squad about the traumas of that night in the hope it acts as motivation to avoid a repeat.
Gerrard and his deputy, Frank Lampard, are the only survivors from the starting line-up in that 3-2 defeat. McClaren’s successor, Fabio Capello, subsequently pointed to his team playing “with problems” and a loss of confidence caused by pressure telling on the bigger occasions at Wembley.
“I don’t think that will ever disappear totally,” said Gerrard, who will eclipse Bobby Charlton by gaining his 107th cap, one behind Bobby Moore, against Poland.
“There’s a huge expectation among the fans and the media that comes with playing for England but the word ‘fear’ isn’t helpful. There is pressure but you’ve got to be excited by games like this, about being in this position.
“At times in the past the team has played with too much fear and pressure on us. But Roy has created an atmosphere that is very relaxed but, at the same time, very professional, and he continues to show trust in his players.
“We’re all aware about how big this is and about what’s at stake and we need to seize this moment. I’ll be the proudest man in the country if we get the win we’re after.
“When Roy first called me and gave me the captaincy full time, this was the job he gave me: to do as well as we could in the Euros and then lead the lads to Brazil. So it would be a big personal achievement for me to say I was the real captain through a campaign and took the lads to Brazil. I’d be delighted.
“We want to try and avoid the play-off situation, even it is a safety net, but the lads want to get the job done and finish it off in style in front of our fans.”
Hodgson will inform the players of his line-up at a team meeting at lunchtime today but is expected to play Phil Jones at right-back for the suspended Kyle Walker and could make one further change by bringing in Michael Carrick for Frank Lampard to freshen up midfield.
Phil Jagielka suffered a cut lip in the warm-up at training at London Colney yesterday while Andros Townsend, an inspirational debutant against Montenegro last Friday, is expected to recover from a kick to his left leg in that 4-1 win.
“Andros took a knock,” said Hodgson, “but we’re very confident he’ll be fit”.
The manager retains faith in his players’ ability to prevail against opponents backed by a vociferous visiting support, but with only pride to play for. However, Hodgson conceded he is “a worrier” before decisive contests like this.
“It won’t be my best night’s sleep ahead of this game because at the moment all of my waking thoughts are around England versus Poland,” he said. “On the other hand I have great faith and trust in the players . . . There’s also a large element of excitement and anticipation. This group of players give me a lot of inspiration. I’ve been inspired by the training sessions in the camp and the performance last Friday. We can do no more. We’ve prepared, we’re ready. Bring the game on.”