LIVERPOOL midfielder Steven Gerrard is relishing the prospect of leading England out against Brazil at Wembley tomorrow night – but the captain admits he already has one eye on next month’s vital World Cup qualifiers.
Roy Hodgson’s side are currently second in Group H, two points adrift of leaders Montenegro, who they face in Podgorica on March 26.
Four days before that game they take on minnows San Marino away but it’s the showdown with Montenegro which will go a long way to deciding England’s fate in the race for Brazil 2014.
England drew 2-2 on the same ground in a Euro 2012 qualifier when Wayne Rooney was sent off.
Gerrard said: “To play Brazil at Wembley is fantastic but there’s a little bit in the mind that’s already waiting for the Montenegro game because it is going to be a key game.
“You can’t get away from that. With all due respect to San Marino, that’s a match we should win comfortably, but Montenegro is going to be a massive game.
“If we can keep everybody fit then I’m really confident, but there is a lot of hard work to do in the group still, that’s for sure. We are certainly not underestimating where we are and how much there is to do.
“But if we get three points in Montenegro it puts us back in the driving seat. I think Ukraine have had a couple of disappointing results, which have helped us.
“At the moment it’s looking like a two-horse race. If we can beat them (Montenegro) in their back yard it’s going to be good. We don’t want to go into a play-off.”
Chelsea defender Ashley Cole is set to earn his 100th cap in tomorrow’s friendly with Brazil and Gerrard wants England fans to acknowledge his contribution over the past decade.
Gerrard, who reached a century of caps himself back in November, said: “I think it’s very important the Wembley crowd respect what Ashley has done for England. I think if the fans take a moment and have a think of what Ashley Cole has given in an England shirt over the last 10 or 12 years, it has been phenomenal. He’s probably been the most consistent player I’ve played with during my time.
“It’s going to be Ashley’s night, if he’s picked to play, and the players are certainly going to show him a hell of a lot of support. Let’s hope the fans do as well.”
Gerrard admits players get used to criticism and use it as a driving force.
He said: “Yes, of course, there are times when you wonder if the criticism is all worth it. But players are thick skinned. We can take criticism off you lads (the media) and the supporters.
“There’s no problem with that at all and sometimes it actually helps drive you on to prove people wrong and prove you are good enough to be at this level.
“Ashley is big enough and strong enough to take any criticism that comes his way. He deserves to be a 100-cap player.
“I think there’s been years when he has been the best left-back in the world.”