England can win 2014 World Cup says Steven Gerrard. Oh yes?
Gerrard itching to lead his country to the finals in Brazil - but first they need to beat Moldova tonight
HAS Steven Gerrard taken leave of his senses or is life at Liverpool clouding his judgment? Either way there can be no excuse for his outlandish declaration on Thursday that England can win the 2014 World Cup.
Admitting that it would require “a miracle” for England to lift the trophy in Brazil in two years’ time, the Liverpool skipper said: “Miracles do happen, it’s been proved. We must have faith.”
Gerrard didn’t elaborate on the miracles he’s witnessed, though he may have been referring to the return of Wayne Rooney’s hair.
In fairness to the 32-year-old England captain, he did acknowledge that “at the moment, we’re not one of the favourites to win”.
That would be right, as a patched-up England prepare to play Moldova this evening in Chisinau in their opening 2014 World Cup qualifier.
Though the Three Lions have lost just once in seven matches since Roy Hodgson became coach in April this year, there was little to cheer about their performances in the summer Euro 2012 tournament.
Apart from a 20-minute period against Sweden, England looked technically inferior to the likes of Ukraine and Italy. It was Italy who eliminated Hodgson’s side in the quarter-finals, a match in which England, for all their bloody-minded resilience, struggled to string together a coherent passage of play.
Nonetheless Gerrard believes England’s future is bright. “This team has every chance to improve in the next few years with players coming through,” said Gerrard, who’ll win his 97th cap against Moldova.
Asked how long he intends to hang around, offering his experience to the next generation of England players, Gerrard replied: “This will be my last World Cup, that’s for sure. I will give it everything. I loved being part of the Euros, leading my country, and I want to enjoy that again.”
Gerrard might be getting ahead of himself in assuming England are as good as qualified for the 2014 tournament. Admittedly Group H is one of the easier ones, but the Three Lions have a long tradition of cocking up qualification for football’s showpiece event.
Moldova are ranked 141 in the world and centre-half Igor Armas has already got his opponents worked out ahead of tonight’s sell-out encounter: “The English national team is not like the Spanish who play tiki-taka,’’ he told reporters. “They play long balls. They play good football in the air.”
But with Andy Carroll and Wayne Rooney out injured, Hodgson’s options up front and in the air are severely stretched. Jermain Defoe and Danny Welbeck are likely to start against Moldova, not a partnership to strike dread into the hearts of Armas and his fellow defenders.
Welbeck and Arsenal’s pair of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott represent the new generation of English players, but Hodgson for the moment is placing his faith in the thirty-somethings. Four of the likely starting-line up against Moldova will be the wrong side of 30 – John Terry, Frank Lampard, Gerrard and Michael Carrick.
“Am I concerned about the ages of the players?” retorted Hodgson at a lively press conference. “No, otherwise I would be making the decision not to use anyone who’s 30 when the World Cup comes along, and speculating on the young ones getting us to Brazil.”
Each of the Moldovan squad stand to pocket a win bonus of £2,500 if they are victorious tonight. Peanuts to the England players whose manager is more concerned with bananas. “The first thing we have to do is qualify,” said Hodgson. “Many people think that’s a simple task but we don’t believe that. We have to play well to qualify… [but] there are plenty of banana skins out there.”