Captain wants to qualify at first time of asking for World Cup
Steven Gerrard will channel the memory of one of the darkest nights of his international career to ensure England finish the job this evening.
Roy Hodgson’s side can guarantee their berth at next summer’s World Cup finals with victory over an already-eliminated Poland at Wembley.
Anything less, however, would leave England facing a two-legged play-off to reach Brazil given Ukraine, a point behind the Three Lions in second place in Group H, are expected to beat minnows San Marino.
Captain Gerrard was the stand-in skipper back in November 2007 when England failed to reach the following year’s European Championships by losing 3-2 at home to Croatia.
And while Hodgson is adamant that match has not been mentioned in preparation for tonight’s decider, Liverpool midfielder Gerrard said: “It is one of those memories that keeps coming back and coming back.
“It wasn't about nerves. We underperformed.
“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 will surpass Bobby Charlton’s tally of 106 caps when he leads England out this evening.
And when asked for what memories he will draw on for inspiration, he added: “A big massive picture of the Croatia game in 2007.
“It's a memory I'll have to take to the grave with me. One of the lowest moments of my international journey.”
Having required wins in their final two home games to qualify for the World Cup finals, England will be buoyed by their 4-1 thrashing of Montenegro last Friday which effectively guaranteed at least a play-off berth.
Gerrard, though, wants England’s place assured automatically in his first qualification campaign as permanent captain.
“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.”
Fellow Scouser Wayne Rooney is among those who believe Gerrard's captaincy credentials were overlooked for far too long.
Both Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello preferred John Terry. And when the Chelsea man 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.”