England captain Steven Gerrard today vowed to exorcise the demons of 2007 and lead his country to the World Cup.
Victory over Poland at Wembley tonight would sweep Roy Hodgson’s team to Brazil without the need for a hazardous two-legged play-off.
Gerrard is not worried about the scale of the 18,000-strong Polish contingent, nor the potential for nerves affecting his younger team-mates.
But 2007, when England suffered a shattering defeat to Croatia when only a draw was needed to reach Euro 2008, is a reminder things can go wrong.
“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.”
England went into that game needing only a draw but fell two goals behind early on – the first coming from an error by keeper Scott Carson in his first competitive international – before a fightback brought them level thanks to goals from Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch.
But substitute Mladen Petric grabbed the winner for the visitors 13 minutes from time.
“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.”
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 the finals is removed.
“I’d be the proudest man in the country if we get the win we’re after,” he added.
“It would be a big personal achievement for me to say I was the captain and led the lads to Brazil.”
“I would be delighted.”