Gerrard set for crucial contest
England skipper Steven Gerrard has admitted he will be the "proudest man" in the country if he leads his team to the World Cup finals tonight.
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8. Steven Gerrard
Victory over Poland at Wembley would sweep England to Brazil without the need for a hazardous two-legged play-off and mark the culmination of an outstanding qualifying campaign under Roy Hodgson.
"I'd be the proudest man in the country if we get the win we're after," Gerrard 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 20,000-strong Polish contingent, nor the potential for nerves affecting his younger team-mates.
But 2007 focuses the mind. That shattering defeat to Croatia when only a draw was needed to reach Euro 2008 a reminder things can go wrong, even against opposition who have nothing to play for, as is the case for Poland.
"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.
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 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 2008."