Steven Gerrard dined in a restaurant with one of the finest views his home city has to offer on Monday evening and yet a backdrop of the Liver Buildings, the River Mersey and the north Wales mountains failed to divert the midfielder's gaze from Germany.
"The only thing we spoke about at dinner was the World Cup and how confident we are of going there and doing really well," said the Liverpool captain, who will have gone a full year without a break from competitive football if England are present in Berlin on 9 July, but who will never tire of this topic of conversation.
Despite gentle pressure from his club manager, Rafael Benitez, Gerrard will play the 45th game of a season that started with a Champions' League qualifier against Welsh side TNS on 13 July 2005 against Gustavo Ferrin's Uruguay tonight. For a 25-year-old who "could have played six times in one day" with the adrenaline rush of Liverpool's European Cup success in Istanbul the World Cup does not present any foreseeable problems with fatigue. However, given that Germany will be the first of Gerrard's outstanding career and offers his generation of talent, he believes, with their greatest chance of adding a second golden star to the England shirt.
The agonising frustration of England's last World Cup campaign had descended upon Gerrard long before Ronaldinho's free-kick sailed over David Seaman's head, with the influential midfielder forced to undergo groin surgery at the end of that Premiership season.
"Sitting at home for six weeks watching England at the World Cup and all the support they had was one of the lowest points of my career," he said yesterday, though even from afar he detected weaknesses that hindered Sven Goran Eriksson in Japan but now whose absences he cites as instrumental factors in the England's renewed confidence.
"We had a lot of young players in Japan and I don't think we were 100 per cent confident that we could go all the way," said Gerrard. "Everything was against us, it was a long journey, the climate and maybe the age of the squad and experience wasn't ready. This time, though, there is a good mix of youth and experience. It could be the likes of David Beckham and Gary Neville's last World Cup and everyone this time round will be desperate to deliver."
More than three months have passed since England's last encounter with South American opposition but the ramifications of that defeat of Argentina still linger for the visit of Uruguay.
"To match Argentina and beat them gives you a lot of confidence and belief going into a big tournament. It was a different England side against Argentina," Gerrard said. But the mental aspect of England's performance was not the only difference that night.
Two substitutions changed the course of the game in Geneva, Argentina's withdrawal of the Juan Riquelme with only six minutes left and the earlier English exchange of Joe Cole for Ledley King. Cole's introduction not only left Eriksson without the holding midfielder whose identity and existence dominated much of the World Cup qualifying campaign, it enabled England to play without inhibition.
As a player whose relentless drive and creativity have often been sacrificed at international level to accommodate or to fill the holding role, the transformation did not go unnoticed. Gerrard said: "I think the games where the team has done well have been where we have been aggressive and played our own game. When we have been a little negative and sat back we have come up against some problems."
Gerrard, however, will not face Uruguay in the assumption England's midfield problems have been repaired by Michael Owen's two late goals in Switzerland. He extols tonight's friendly, the June dates with Hungary and Jamaica and the additional week's preparation that Eriksson has secured for the World Cup as "a great opportunity to work on the midfield" and it is a workload he will gladly accept, having been reminded of the precarious nature of his ambition by the serious eye injury sustained by his team-mate Mohamed Sissoko in Lisbon last week.
"It makes you realise that you have to be careful out there," he said. "An incident like that could end your career, although thankfully the news on 'Momo' has been a lot better this week. Incidents like that make you realise how short a career it can be and you have to enjoy it because you don't know what is around the corner."Reuse content