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Home » Sport » Football

No rousing speech from Gerrard

Steven Gerrard doesn't do Churchillian.

But if the England skipper was going to make a grand speech ahead of Tuesday night's crucial World Cup qualifier with Poland, November 21, 2007 would be a central component.

Roy Hodgson is adamant that shattering 3-2 defeat by Croatia at Wembley has not been mentioned in the preparation for a game England must win to guarantee reaching next year's World Cup Finals in Brazil.

It doesn't need mentioning for Gerrard.

He only has to start thinking about an international career that will extend beyond Sir Bobby Charlton's in length at kick-off to be reminded of it.

"Yeah, a big massive picture of the Croatia game in 2007," said Gerrard, when asked what memories he will draw on for inspiration.

"It's a memory I'll have to take to the grave with me. One of the lowest moments of my international journey."

Six years on, the narrative still takes some believing.

England only required a draw to confirm their place at Euro 2008, against a team who had little incentive given they were already confirmed finalists.

Coach Steve McClaren took the bold decision to select Scott Carson for his first competitive international, a move that backfired almost instantly as the goalkeeper let Nico Kranjcar's long-range shot slip under him.

Croatia were two ahead before England mounted a spectacular fightback, Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch scoring the goals that looked certain to claim the draw required.

Incredibly, substitute Mladen Petric grabbed the winner 13 minutes from time, as England were hit on the break chasing a third goal they did not need.

"It is one of those memories that keeps coming back and coming back," said Gerrard.

"It wasn't about nerves. We under-performed. Everyone knows I'm not the most vocal captain. I won't be roaring and bawling.

"But I have already spoken to the lads about that feeling.

"I'd never try to scare a young lad but it's important they are aware what's at stake. We need to seize this moment.

"We want to look back at this with fond memories and with a smile rather than the way I do about (Euro) 2008."

Gerrard's acute sense of failure is probably exacerbated by the knowledge he was wearing the captain's armband that night, just as he will at Wembley.

This time around though, he is doing the job by right, rather than the fact a preferred alternative - John Terry - was missing through injury.

Wayne Rooney is amongst those who believe Gerrard's captaincy credentials were overlooked for far too long.

Both McClaren and Fabio Capello preferred Terry. And when the Chelsea defender was stood down for the first time following his alleged dalliance with the girlfriend of former team-mate Wayne Bridge, the Italian plumped for Rio Ferdinand.

Yet it is clear Gerrard's chest swells with the additional responsibility, and the feeling of euphoria at a job well done would be heightened in victory too.

"I'd be the proudest man in the country if we get the win we're after," he said.

"It would be a big personal achievement for me to say I was the real captain through a campaign and led the lads to Brazil. I would be delighted."

As it could well be Gerrard's last tilt at a major prize, the 33-year-old will be giving everything to ensure the last barrier to Brazil is removed.

He is not worried about the scale of the 18,000-strong Polish contingent, nor the potential for nerves affecting his younger team-mates.

But 2007 focuses the mind. A reminder things can go wrong.

And Gerrard is anxious not to walk out of Wembley a failure for a second time.

"I'm very confident," he said.

"The emergence of some really bright young players has strengthened the squad. The manager could have put two teams out against Montenegro.

"But I do remember Croatia. When we got the equaliser that night I thought we'd go on and win.

"It just shows that although everyone fancies us to win this game anything can happen. We have to be prepared for that."

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