Gerrard demands England deliver in crucial qualifiers
Captain rates game against Montenegro right up there with the most important in his 105 caps
Steven Gerrard has told his teammates it is time to get England to the World Cup finals.
The skipper issued his rallying cry on the eve of tonight’s group H clash against Montenegro at Wembley, with Roy Hodgson’s men aware that victory will put them within sight of Brazil 2014.
England complete their qualification campaign against Poland, also at Wembley, on Tuesday and know dropping points in either fixture could mean going into the play-offs or missing out completely.
Gerrard, set to equal Bobby Charlton’s tally of 106 England caps against Montenegro, said: “This is right up there with the most important I have played in the 105 I already played. We are at a critical stage, it’s up to us to deliver.
“Everyone in the squad and the staff have huge respect for the teams we are playing. But there is a big confidence within our squad.
“We know we have fantastic players and the majority are fit, which is a huge boost. If we play as well as we can it will be enough to get the two wins we need.
“We are not over-confident or arrogant, but there is a belief and optimism that we are going to get the job done.”
Preparations have gone smoothly for England manager Roy Hodgson, who has not suffered a withdrawal since Chelsea full-back Ashley Cole suffered a hip injury last weekend.
Qualification remains in England’s hands and they have home advantage as well.
“I read that we have only lost one of the last 13 at Wembley, that is a nice statistic,” Hodgson said. “I haven’t tasted defeat there yet. We believe that it’s the right place to be. We believe in the players. I am convinced we will put on a very good performance.”
There will, however, be a spotlight on Joe Hart following the goalkeeper’s recent high-profile errors while playing for Manchester City.
But Hodgson said: “I am rather hoping Joe will have the chance to show what he can do. Although perhaps I am not and I hope Joe has nothing to do.”
Hodgson also has more attacking options than he has enjoyed in a while.
Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge have been paired in training but Danny Welbeck is also available.
Rickie Lambert has been in goalscoring form for England and Jermain Defoe has been a regular scorer when given a chance at Tottenham.
Gerrard added: “I think we took a bit of criticism after drawing against Ukraine, lacked a cutting edge in the final third but everyone knew we had very little striking options available and to be fair to Rickie he ran himself into the ground and he held it up nicely for us.
“Everyone is available now and everyone knows the form that Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge are in now. If they are selected I have every confidence they can do the damage.
“Wayne is breaking records as he goes along for Manchester United and I am sure with time he will do the same for England.”
Rooney is 13 goals behind Bobby Charlton’s England record of 49 and Gerrard said: “He is young enough and he has the right amount of caps to go on and break Bobby Charlton’s record and good luck to him.
“He certainly has the ability to do that and I hope he does it.”