Gerrard out to fill trophy cabinet with missing medals

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The Independent Football

When Steven Gerrard turns on the lights of the ostentatious trophy cabinet he has had constructed inside his Merseyside mansion, it is not the European Cup, the Uefa Cup, the two FA Cup and the two League Cup medals that serve as an inspiration but the two empty places that remind him that his collection, and therefore his career, is incomplete. They are spaces only a Premiership champion and World Cup winner could fill.

"I've left space in the cabinet for those two," said the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year who, barring a late reaction to his back injury this morning, will line up for England against Paraguay today. "What a career I will have had if I get those medals. That's the aim."

Such ambitious planning may appear arrogant to some. To Gerrard, who has refused to seek advice on reaching a World Cup final from Dietmar Hamann for the simple reason that his German friend did not emerge victorious from Yokohama in 2002, it is designed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There was more than a starting place in the opening game of Group B at stake when Gerrard performed a gruelling fitness test on his back complaint yesterday afternoon, the thought of releasing four years of frustration against the South Americans and of taking the first step towards the missing masterpiece from his medal collection were also present in every stretch. The 26-year-old was too raw for France '98 and forced to sit out the last World Cup as he recovered from surgery on his groin and, for all the personal triumphs at Liverpool, his absence from the greatest stage has been a constant torment.

"I feel there is a void in my career because I have not played in a World Cup," he admitted. "It was so frustrating last time and I can't wait to have the experience of playing in a World Cup. At club level I feel I've been really successful but I've still got a lot to fulfil at international level."

According to Alan Hansen, there is pressure on Gerrard to deliver at this tournament and criticism that he is yet to transfer his club performances to the international arena is not a subject from which he shies away from. The midfielder said: "I am probably playing the best football in my life. I have never felt this confident going into the previous tournaments I've played in. I am asked to play in a different role for England and I have to do the job the manager wants. Hopefully this is my time. Physically I haven't felt this good in all my career. Mentally I am fine as well. There is nothing going on, no speculation with the other clubs, and I feel this stage is set for me to go and have a good tournament."

Professionally and personally the midfielder from Huyton was delighted to witness the return of the striker from Croxteth to the England camp on Wednesday night but, in the absence of Wayne Rooney this afternoon, the Liverpool captain cites the contribution of his Anfield team-mate Peter Crouch as pivotal to the result against Paraguay.

"Sometimes you find that Peter is impossible to play against in training," said Gerrard. "As a midfielder he gives you all sorts of options and a lot of my goals have come from Crouch knockdowns this season."

Gerrard will issue to Crouch the same instruction that he received from Liverpool's Spanish manager Rafael Benitez last season when he vacates the changing room at the Waldstadion at 2.50pm this afternoon: make your presence felt.

"I hope defenders try to intimidate Peter at this World Cup because we will get a lot of free-kicks and hopefully a lot of penalties from it," Gerrard said. "We had a meeting the other day with the referees and Fifa and they are saying the likes of elbows and pulling shirts are completely banned and there are going to be red cards and penalties and free-kicks everywhere. If Peter starts leaning into his opponents and making his presence felt this England team could benefit."

The time for delivering instructions is all but over now, however. "All the players have been talking the talk and saying we are going to go a long way and have got a great team," said Gerrard. "Now we have got to go and prove that."