Football: Gerrard wants qualifying pain turned into gain

WATFORD, United Kingdom (AFP) - Steven Gerrard will draw on his painful, first-hand experience of failure to inspire his England team-mates ahead of the decisive World Cup qualifier with Poland.

Tuesday's meeting at Wembley is not do or die for manager Roy Hodgson's side, but anything less than victory will mean England must negotiate a play-off if they are to reach next year's finals in Brazil.

The prospect of failing to qualify has revived memories of the meeting with Croatia in 2007 when England - then managed by Steve McClaren - lost 3-2 at home to Croatia, ending their hopes of reaching Euro 2008.

That defeat brought an end to McClaren's time in charge of the national team and scarred Gerrard.

"It's a memory I'll struggle to forget, one I'll take with me to the grave," said the England captain.

"It was one of the lowest moments of my international journey. I hope we don't get back to that.

"We never played well on the night. It stays with me now. The failure of not getting to the tournament. We didn't perform. We underperformed."

The Liverpool midfielder, though, is convinced there are few similarities between the England side that faced Croatia six years ago and the one that will play Poland buoyed by a convincing 4-1 win over Montenegro at Wembley on Friday.

"Once the game starts your nerves have gone, but the feeling is totally different this time," Gerrard said. "We go into this game with the belief and confidence in the squad."

Hodgson's willingness to place his faith in youth against Montenegro has helped instil that confidence in the wake of the uninspiring scoreless draw in Ukraine last month.

In particular, the performance of Andros Townsend on his full international debut lifted spirits but Gerrard admits the presence of so many inexperienced internationals in the group means he has had to exert caution when asked for guidance about how to cope with the pressure of high-profile England matches.

"I have already spoken to the lads about that feeling, on the bus, going to games. Every time you get the chance to share a bit of experience, you do.

"There's a way of putting it across, never scaring a young lad. They're aware about how big this is, what's at stake, and we need to seize this memory.

"We need to look back at this with a smile rather than I do about 2008.

"Everyone knows the size of the game. Everyone is itching to play. The young lads in the squad have taken inspiration from Andros's performance." For Gerrard, the prospect of leading England into a World Cup finals is clearly a huge motivation.

The Liverpool skipper will always be associated with a 'golden generation' of England players who nevertheless failed to achieve success at international level.

But Brazil marks one last opportunity for the 33-year-old to shine on football's biggest stage.

Gerrard said: "When Roy first called me and gave me the captaincy full-time, the job he gave me was to do as well as we could in the Euros and then try to lead the lads to Brazil.

"So it will be a huge satisfaction from my point of view if we get the win (against Poland)." But despite the upbeat mood amongst Hodgson's side, Gerrard admits the fear factor that has haunted previous England teams has not evaporated entirely.

"I don't think it will ever disappear totally. There's a huge expectation amongst the fans but the word fear isn't helpful - there is pressure but you've got to be excited by games like this, being in this position.

"I think, at times, the team has played with too much fear and pressure on, but Roy has created an atmosphere that is very relaxed but very professional, and he has shown his trust in the players."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.