Gerrard in '50-50' struggle to play against Paraguay

The prospect of Steven Gerrard playing in the opening game of the World Cup was rated at only "50-50" last night as a back specialist visited the England midfielder at the Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe in an effort to massage the odds in his favour.

Despite warming up with his colleagues at training yesterday the Liverpool captain sat out the competitive part of the session as a consequence of back spasms that have plagued him since being struck on the hip by a team-mate's elbow on Tuesday. With Gerrard absent for a second day in succession, the England management team invited a back specialist to the team hotel where the 26-year-old received treatment in the afternoon and yesterday evening. His reaction to those two sessions will determine whether he faces Paraguay tomorrow.

Back problems hindered Gerrard throughout his early career at Liverpool, and restricted him to only one brief appearance at Euro 2000 but, as he was at pains to point out yesterday, he has not suffered from them for several years and this current injury is unrelated.

With that in mind, the midfielder was last night supremely optimistic about starting against the South Americans, although his recovery will need to make significant strides in the next 24 hours before Sven Goran Eriksson can share his belief. "The good thing is it is improving all the time," Gerrard said. "I have got a good chance of playing against Paraguay but I need to keep working on it from now until Saturday. As we speak now, I am probably 50-50 to play - but if it keeps improving as it has done over the last 24 hours, then I'll be there."

Gerrard, who missed the last World Cup after undergoing groin surgery, added: "I've not had a back problem for years. This has come from a knock on my hip which made my back go into spasms. I don't know how it is going to respond but it has improved a lot over the last 24 hours. If it keeps going in that direction, I am confident I will be ready for Saturday."

Should Gerrard fail to recover in time, Eriksson would then be forced to alter his midfield personnel or shape for a third international fixture in 12 days. With the Liverpool captain sitting on the sidelines at the Mittelbergstadion yesterday morning, both Jamie Carragher, who was thrust into a midfield holding role against Hungary last week, and Michael Carrick, who has been overlooked for that position on several occasions by the England manager, stepped into the void created by Gerrard's injury.

In the event of the FA Cup winning midfielder missing out at the Waldstadion in Frankfurt tomorrow it is expected that Carrick will be asked to partner Frank Lampard in a 4-4-2 formation.

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