England's youth 'must deliver'
Steven Gerrard (AFP Photo)
Manaus - England captain Steven Gerrard has warned his younger team-mates that Saturday's Soccer World Cup opener against Italy in Manaus will be a litmus test of their abilities at international level.
Manager Roy Hodgson has selected England's youngest World Cup squad since 1958, with Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw among the youngsters hoping to impress.
Other first-team players such as Gerrard's Liverpool team-mates Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge are also just starting out as international footballers and the captain says that now is the time to prove themselves.
"I think we have a middle-age in the squad, a group of players who have had terrific seasons, and we have also got that newness and freshness in the squad, the people everyone is talking about: Raheem, Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley to name a few," Gerrard told journalists.
"I would still class Sturridge and Henderson in that bracket. The talent is there, the ability is there, but this is the most difficult and the most pressurised stage to deliver on, both personally and as a group.
"It is all right having all the ability and talent, but it is also being cute, clever and having that knowledge of how to beat these sides because everyone has got what we have got."
There could be up to five Liverpool players in the starting XI aligned by Hodgson at the Amazonia Arena, but Gerrard has advised fans not to expect the swashbuckling football that became a calling card for Brendan Rodgers's side last season.
"People talk about playing the Liverpool way, but to go to Manaus and play the Liverpool way may not be possible," said the 34-year-old.
"Yes we can go and attack and show tempo, pace and try and hunt them down and win the ball, but there will be times in the game when it will be tough on the legs and tough on the lungs.
"We are going to have to get the shout out for the squad to be close, narrow and hard to beat. That is just common sense."
Gerrard endured a traumatic end to the Premier League season, after his slip against Chelsea allowed Demba Ba to score a goal that decisively tipped the momentum in the title race in Manchester City's favour.
While admitting that the incident initially "drove me mad", Gerrard said that he was quick to digest his disappointment.
"It would have driven me crazier if it was a mistake and I had lost a man at a corner or not prepared properly," he explained.
"If I made a genuine error that was my fault, I would have struggled to recover from it, but everyone in the world has slipped. Whether it is on a football pitch, a kerb or a wet floor.
"It is one of those things that you cannot control. It is a freak incident that happens. I have moved on. I am in a great place mentally and physically. I feel strong and I believe I can go and perform."
Gerrard praised the Football Association for putting "everything in place" for the squad, after positive warm-weather training camps in Portugal and Miami. Now, it is down to the players.
"When the whistle goes against Italy, you are on your own," Gerrard added.
"You are with your team and your squad and you have to have belief in what we are going into the tournament with.
"I will be proud leading this group of players out against Italy. I trust the players and I believe in my team-mates.
"But I will be even prouder if we come home from this tournament with our heads held high and we have gone out onto the pitch and given everything we have got for the English public back home."