England v Poland: Steven Gerrard admits 'I’m ready to banish the nightmares' of Croatia

Midfielder spurred on by memory of Croatia debacle as England seek to reach World Cup with win over Poland

It was only a matter of time this week before someone got round to mentioning Croatia, and that wet night at Wembley in November 2007 which is still treated by those who took part with a mixture of embarrassment and disbelief. Yes, that really did happen: an England team set the task of getting a result at home against a team with nothing to play for failed to reach a major international tournament.

England v Poland: Follow the latest news and score with our LIVE BLOG

Asked what part of his experience he would draw upon for tonight’s must-win World Cup qualifier against Poland, Steven Gerrard replied bluntly that it was “a big massive picture of the Croatia game in 2007”. That night England only needed a draw to reach Euro 2008, against a team that had already qualified for the tournament but in the rain they conspired to blow it.

“It’s a memory I’ll struggle to reject,” Gerrard said, “a memory that I’ll have to take to the grave with me. One of the lowest moments of my  international journey. I hope that we don’t get back to that.”

In many respects, Tuesday night's qualifier should be a simpler prospect. Unlike that excellent Croatia side that won 3-2 in 2007, Poland are fourth in a very poor Group H and have nothing at stake other than the pride of the 20,000 Poles expected at Wembley. Granted, England must win the game if they are to earn first place in the group and automatic qualification but they are up against the 65th-ranked team in the world.

When Steve McClaren took refuge under a Football Association umbrella in 2007, he did so having selected a team to face Croatia from a squad that had been severely diminished by injury. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole and Paul Robinson were all missing that night, forcing him to improvise with Scott Carson, Joleon Lescott, Sol Campbell (then 33) and, his only fit front-line striker, Peter Crouch.

History tends not to remember those details. What history does remember is McClaren’s brolly and the sense of humiliation that cost him his job and left England with one of those lost summers. The only two survivors from that night in 2007 who will most likely start against Poland are Gerrard and Frank Lampard, both now past the 100-cap mark and eager for one last show in Brazil next summer.

It is hard not to consider Croatia in 2007 when contemplating tonight’s challenge for England. For Roy Hodgson, the past is irrelevant – “the words Croatia and 2007 have never been mentioned, it’s of no interest”, he said – but enough of it lingers on to inform much of what happens tonight. The first challenge tonight is for England to conquer the memory of their past.

Hodgson’s firm belief is that this is a new era of players, such as Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Andros Townsend, Jack Wilshere, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka who do not have to worry about the ghosts of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. “We can’t change the Croatia result or make [Jan] Tomaszewski play badly in ’73. We’ve got something really big for us if we win the game, and the Poles have nothing other than a bit of pride.”

Hodgson made the point that while the lessons of the past had their place in ensuring politicians did not repeat the mistakes of history, it was a different case in sport. “I don’t think it has any relevance whatsoever... every Poland and England team has been different since 1973.” Of course, he has a point but then this is the England team where the same inhibitions and shortcomings seem to be passed down from generation to generation.

Gary Cahill v Robert Lewandowski: The Chelsea man’s form will be tested to the limit by Lewandowski's direct runs and clinical decision making Gary Cahill v Robert Lewandowski: The Chelsea man’s form will be tested to the limit by Lewandowski's direct runs and clinical decision making (Getty)
Should Hodgson’s England team beat Poland? Of course they should, but then this is a team that is yet to win two consecutive games in this qualifying campaign. There is always a difficult balance for the likes of Gerrard to strike: they cannot afford to crush the optimism of the younger players but must also leave them in no doubt of what they are playing for.

“I’d never ever try to scare a young lad but I think it’s important they are aware how big this is,” Gerrard said. “To know what’s at stake, and we need to seize this moment. We want to look back at this with fond memories. We need to look back at this with a smile rather than the way I do about 2007. Everyone’s ready to play, everyone knows the size of the game. Training this morning was superb. The young lads in the squad have taken inspiration from Andros’s performance.”

The Andros Townsend question is one of a number that face Hodgson as he makes his selection decision this morning. There is no guarantee that he will stick with the same XI beyond the one enforced change of replacing the suspended Kyle Walker at right-back, most likely with Chris Smalling. The team that Hodgson picks tonight will go a long way to shaping perceptions of him and the kind of manager he is, especially if it ends with England facing a two-legged play-off next month to reach the World Cup.

The inclusion of Townsend against a much-weakened Montenegro team on Friday has come to be regarded as Hodgson’s light-bulb moment, one where he abandoned his conservatism in favour of something more adventurous. He is not having a bit of that, turning around talk of a more attacking attitude on Friday into praise of his defence for their handling of Stevan Jovetic and the task they face against Robert Lewandowski tonight.

“We can do no more,” the manager said as he contemplated the build-up to tonight. “We’ve prepared, we’re ready. Bring the game on. It’s not good that we’ve got until the evening to wait until we bring it on. We’d be happy to go and play it at 3pm this afternoon.”

Gerrard, as is his nature, was a bit more circumspect. He said he would be “the proudest man in the country” tonight if England win and are safely on their way to Brazil, but he added that he did not think the fear that comes with representing England would “ever disappear totally... but the word fear isn’t helpful”. There is no shame in admitting that. Every generation has to learn to play with it, and this one might just be the team that decides to throw it off.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game