herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

No KO blow for gerrard

Midfielder refusing to look past Ukraine clash

ENGLAND skipper Steven Gerrard has vowed not to let minds wander beyond tonight's Euro 2012 qualification decider with co-hosts Ukraine.

The Three Lions need a point to guarantee their place in the last eight, which was felt to be the minimum requirement for new manager Roy Hodgson at the start of the tournament.

Having suffered so much quarter-final heartache in the past, perhaps it is no surprise minds should be drifting slightly.

Not Gerrard's, though. He is acutely aware of how tricky Ukraine are likely to be.

"I am trying to force myself not even to talk about the quarter-finals, or get involved in it," said the midfielder.

"It would be very disrespectful to the opposition, who are very dangerous.

"If I started talking about quarter-finals and we slipped up, I would never forgive myself.

"Lets deal with what we can expect if we get there."

Getting the right response to Gerrard's demand has been helped by Greece's stunning victory over Russia on Saturday, which eliminated one of the tournament heavyweights.

"Absolutely," said manager Roy Hodgson.

"The cliches in football are also the greatest truths. That is a fact."

Gerrard also claimed it was a cliche to think England may be intimidated by the intense atmosphere predicted in the Donbass Arena, when the overwhelming majority of a 60,000 crowd will be desperate for a home win that would send Ukraine through.

"The fans don't score goals," said Gerrard. "The noise doesn't score goals.

"We are not worried about how noisy it is or what the atmosphere is like. I can't wait. Sixty thousand fans all cheering. That is what you play football for."

Hodgson reported no concerns about the pitch England have to perform on, even though UEFA made it unavailable for yesterday's final training session, which instead took place in Krakow prior to departure.

With Theo Walcott available after his hamstring scare, Hodgson is picking from a full-strength squad.

Walcott has realistic claims for selection too, based on his match-changing display against Sweden on Friday, even though the major talk has centred around who should make way for Wayne Rooney's return.

Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll both impressed during pre-tournament outings and both found the net against Sweden on Friday.

If the call comes purely down to footballing ability, Welbeck will surely get the nod, having struck up an impressive partnership with Rooney at Manchester United. However, at 21, asking Welbeck to play three big games in the space of eight days is a lot, which may offer Carroll hope of a reprieve.

Either way, more can be expected of England than they delivered in Cape Town two years ago, when they were held to a goalless draw by Algeria in a truly awful game.

Gerrard confirmed the camp is far happier now.

"Yes it is, and the reason for that is how we are playing," he said.

"Everyone knows in South Africa the team weren't playing at a good level. It becomes difficult and hard work.

"We have got Wayne Rooney back and everything is positive."

Having invested so much faith in Rooney by announcing his inclusion in the aftermath of the win over Sweden, Hodgson cannot afford his talisman to fail him.

Even he said it was probably a "good idea" to speak with the striker beforehand to ensure he was calm.

However, when he said Gerrard may deliver similarly soothing words, his response was unexpected.

"I'm not going to tell Wayne Rooney not to be fired up for this game," he said.

"We need him on the pitch. He's aware of that.

"But he's a world-class player and I can see it in his eyes that he's itching to get out there and perform."

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