Countdown To England v Montenegro
Steven Gerrard has rubbished the idea England players do not care about international football.
Steven Gerrard has rubbished the idea England players do not care about international football.
The 33-year-old leads England into the World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland knowing back-to-back Wembley victories will sweep Roy Hodgson's men into next summer's World Cup Finals.
Four points would be enough if Ukraine fail to overcome Poland in Kiev on Friday, but anything less and England will find themselves in the play-offs, or even worse, eliminated altogether.
Past failures, such as missing out on Euro 2008, have sometimes led accusations that the players do not care about England, but that is an idea Gerrard rejects.
"It's nonsense to say that. Nonsense," Gerrard told the Daily Mirror.
"The pain and the agony - how long that lasted after we didn't qualify for Euro 2008 - I wish you could bottle that and show it to people who say those things and doubt how much we care.
"We care. Trust me, we care. No one cares more than the players.
"We understand the fans and media are passionate, but that's certainly the case in the dressing room.
"It's a shame the supporters and certain people can't go into the dressing room and see how we prepare and how much we want this.
"The word I use when people bring it up is just 'nonsense'."
Meanwhile Gerrard admits the spectre of missing out on a major tournament, as they did at Euro 2008, will hopefully drive his team-mates on to glory.
Speaking on behalf of official England partners William Hill, Gerrard said: "It was a very tough time in 2008.
"It was the lowest experience I have ever had as an England player and I don't want it to happen again.
"It was a horrible situation to be in. Hopefully the hurt and the pain from that time will help drive us all on."
In the tightest of groups, England do at least remain in charge of their own destiny.
Yet, as history shows, that tends to be no guarantee of a stress-free end to qualification.
In 2002, it took David Beckham's famous injury-time free-kick against Greece to secure the point required.
Two years later, a backs-to-the-wall effort in Turkey was needed.
The shambolic effort in 2008, when England only required a point but somehow ended up losing to a Croatia goal conceded on the counter-attack after the side coached for the final time by Steve McClaren fought back from two goals down, has gone down in the history books for the wrong reasons.
Even two years ago, a place at Euro 2012 was only claimed after a nervy ending to a trip to Montenegro that started so well.
"I am sure there will be nail-biting situations in the next couple of games when our backs will be against the wall," said Gerrard.
"All the players believe, and are very confident, we can get over the line by securing the two wins we need.
"Of course, the responsibility and pressure is on us but you can look at that in two ways.
"You can be nervous and dread it or you can be excited, really look forward and try to enjoy it.
"These are the games you dream of from a very young age, to be playing for England with the chance of qualifying for a World Cup in Brazil.
"That is what whets my appetite and I am sure the other lads feel the same."
The loss of Ashley Cole to a rib injury that has already ruled him out of Friday's encounter with Montenegro and, almost certainly, the Poland encounter as well is compensated for by the presence of Leighton Baines.
Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs has been called up as cover.
The Football Association have confirmed Ashley Cole will miss England's World Cup qualifier with Montenegro at Wembley on Friday. Cole complained of a rib problem during Chelsea's Barclays Premier League victory at Norwich on Sunday and went for a scan on Monday morning which has confirmed the full-back will not be able to play in the first match of England's double header at Wembley on Friday.
Whilst the left-back could be available for the following Tuesday's game against Poland, it does seem unlikely the veteran will be involved.
Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs has been added to Roy Hodgson's squad, whilst Everton's Leighton Baines is set to start.
Whilst the injury itself is not a complete disaster with Baines in outstanding form, which brought interest from Manchester United this summer, it does add a complication Hodgson could have done without ahead of such a massive week.
England might qualify with four points, but to be certain of reaching next summer's Finals in Brazil they need to beat Montenegro and Poland.
They must do so without a recognised wide man due to injuries to Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, plus Ashley Young's loss of form.
There is also the small matter of Harry Redknapp's autobiography, and his controversial comments about Hodgson and the FA.
Redknapp was considered to be the clear favourite to take the England job when Fabio Capello resigned last year, but the FA opted to approach Roy Hodgson, then in charge at West Brom.
Redknapp maintains he holds no grudge against Hodgson, but in his new autobiography, serialised in the Daily Mail, he said: "I wouldn't trust the FA to show me a good manager if their lives depended on it.
"How would they know? What clubs have they ever run? Who do they speak to who really knows the game?
"This isn't about them giving the England job to me or Roy Hodgson, but English football being run by people who really haven't got a clue. And they get to pick the England manager!
"Everyone said I was the people's choice, the only choice. All the senior players seemed to be up for me to get the job. I got quite a few text messages at the time from players saying they would love me to manage England: Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry.
"But the FA went for Roy Hodgson to be the England manager - a man who is more their cup of tea."
While Redknapp was expected to leave Tottenham for England, he ended up leaving them without a job at all as Spurs chairman Daniel Levy parted company with him that summer.
The 66-year-old continued: "If I had become the England manager I would have taken Brendan Rodgers as my number two.
"My thinking on Brendan was this: if he can do it with players from the lower leagues at Swansea what can he do with Rio and Terry or Rooney and Gerrard?
"So when Tottenham played Swansea on April 1, 2012 I pulled Brendan after the game and said that if all the speculation about me and England was true would he consider coming to the European Championships in the summer as my part-time coach?
"I told him I wanted England to play with as much technical ambition as Swansea. He was up for it.
"Some Tottenham fans might think I was distracted from my club job, but I can assure you the conversation took five minutes. And we beat Swansea 3-1 that day, by the way.
"It didn't work out. On April 1, I was contemplating the way forward for England with Brendan Rodgers - and on April 29 the FA offered the job to Roy Hodgson.
"I'll admit, I thought it was mine. Everyone seemed so certain, everyone I had met from all parts of the game seemed utterly convinced it was my job."
Redknapp believes the issue of compensation to Tottenham remains one of the reasons why he was never asked.
"I'm sure the FA would deny they were interested in me anyway, they always like to say they got their number one choice, but maybe what helped make their minds up was the thought of writing a cheque in the region of £16million to Levy.
"He is known for driving a hard bargain at the best of times; get Daniel on a bad day and I would have ended up more expensive than Capello - and the FA were already getting a lot of criticism over his £6million-a-year salary.
"Of all the reasons doing the rounds for me not becoming England manager, the compensation issue makes most sense."
The FA opted not to respond today, although Hodgson is likely to do so on Thursday - when he is due to address the media in his pre-match press conference.
John Ruddy has no doubt Joe Hart is England's number one goalkeeper and believes the level of scrutiny to which the Manchester City stopper has been subjected affects England's chances of success. Norwich goalkeeper Ruddy is one of two understudies to Hart in the squad, alongside Celtic's uncapped stopper Fraser Forster, for the crucial World Cup qualifiers with Montenegro and Poland as England bid to advance to next summer's tournament in Brazil.
If Sunday's Barclays Premier League match with Chelsea was an opportunity to audition for the number one role, for Ruddy it did not go entirely to plan as Eden Hazard's shot squirmed under his body and he was less than convincing under the high ball, albeit in no small part due to the Norfolk sunshine.
But Ruddy, whose single England appearance to date came in a friendly win over Italy, for now has no pretensions on the England goalkeeper jersey he believes Hart fully deserves.
"Joe's the England number one. Rightly so," Ruddy said.
"The way he's performed over the last few years he's deserved it and he's never let England down.
"I've been in situations before when people are questioning you. It's never nice.
"Without being too patronising, I felt sorry for him.
"He doesn't warrant that sort of attention. He's a top-drawer goalkeeper, one of the best in the world without a shadow of a doubt.
"It's the way the media is - you build people up so far and then chop their legs away when they get too high.
"Unfortunately that's the way the English media goes. Until that stops we might struggle to go anywhere in competitions."
Nevertheless, Ruddy believes Hart, like any top-level goalkeeper, has the mental resilience to put errors behind him.
"Nine times out of 10 a keeper makes a mistake, the ball goes in the back of the net," Ruddy said.
"It's a tough world but every keeper is mentally strong enough to deal with that.
"We're a strange bunch, but you have to be. The self-confidence and self-belief that you have as an individual has to be right up there."
Ruddy insists there are plenty of goalkeepers pushing Hart for his position, should England boss Roy Hodgson opt to change.
The 26-year-old said: "There's plenty of talent around. Joe knows that. Joe sets himself very high standards.
"I'm looking forward to working with him for the rest of the week.
"I'm happy to be involved in the squad and I'm happy to be putting pressure on Joe. He knows there's myself, there's Fraser, there's Ben (Foster), there's Jack (Butland), (and) Robert Green's kept eight clean sheets in a row - you don't do that if you're a bad keeper."
Norwich and England goalkeeping coach Dave Watson could have his work cut out this week, with Hart and Ruddy, who did not have his best day in the 3-1 loss to Chelsea at Carrow Road.
At 1-1, Norwich were pressing forward late on when Chelsea broke from a corner and Hazard pounced on a poor Alex Tettey touch to shoot through Ruddy before Willian capped the triumph.
"I'm obviously disappointed to concede a goal, but it would've been a very good save if I'd have been able to get down to it," Ruddy said.
"He (Hazard) has had the whole goal to aim at and he's put it in the most awkward position for a goalkeeper.
"Looking back I probably would've gone with the leg, but these are split-second decisions you have to make and with the power he put on it it's always going to be difficult to stop it."
Ruddy, who insisted his summer link to Chelsea did not play on his mind, felt Norwich were unfortunate to be beaten, after battling back from conceding inside four minutes to Oscar when Anthony Pilkington levelled.
He said: "We more than matched them for long periods of the game.
"We could've dropped our heads after three minutes, but we never did. We kept on going and gave them a good game.
"We would've been disappointed to come away with a draw, let alone a defeat.
"But (there were) a lot of positives to take from a fantastic performance."
Next for Norwich is Premier League leaders Arsenal, one Chelsea's opponents in a run of seven games in 21 days following the international break.
The Gunners clash comes in the Capital One Cup, with Blues boss Jose Mourinho suggesting he will select an under-21 team due to the proximity of crucial Premier League and Champions League matches.
Right-back Branislav Ivanovic hopes Chelsea can kick on from a promising start to the campaign once action resumes against Cardiff, Schalke and Manchester City.
"When we're back from the national team we have the very tight schedule of games," Ivanovic said.
"I think we have to work very hard to be top, and use all the squad for these kind of games that are coming up for us.
"I think we are (heading) in the right way."
Source: Newcastle United Mad
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