I can't wait for the World Cup, says captain fantastic Gerrard
Steven Gerrard may have given one of the performances of his life in Saturday's FA Cup final victory over West Ham, but the Liverpool captain has promised that he will be fit and ready for the World Cup finals after being excused England's training camp in Portugal this week.
The England squad fly to their Portugal training camp today as Sven Goran Eriksson submits his final 23-man squad to Fifa with no changes expected from the list he announced last Monday. The players will be staying in pairs in villas in their base in Faro on the Algarve and the squad's two youngest, uncapped players - Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon - have been placed together.
The weekend belonged to Gerrard, however, and the 25-year-old has said that the rest Eriksson has given him following his remarkable two-goal rescue act for Liverpool, who triumphed 3-1 on penalties after drawing 3-3 after extra time, will be the ideal preparation for the summer in Germany.
Gerrard said that he had been struck down by nothing more severe than an attack of cramps in the closing stages on Saturday.
"Now I'll have a couple of weeks' rest and I'll have a week with my family," he said. "The other [England] boys are going to Portugal but I'm staying and will get some rest before Germany. I can't wait. There's plenty to look forward to. I have said before that we've got a really talented squad and when I've had a bit of rest, I will be raring to go for Germany."
The good news on Gerrard's fitness will be a relief to Eriksson, especially after such a draining game. Gerrard was compared to Zinedine Zidane yesterday by the Liverpool striker Djibril Cissé. "He [Gerrard] is the best player I have played with, him and Zidane," Cissé said. "Zidane is older and Steven is approaching his peak. Steven has a great future."
Gerrard was deployed on the right wing for Liverpool, although the injury to Xabi Alonso eventually forced their manager, Rafael Benitez, to move him to a more central position in the latter stages of the second half.
Benitez said: "You can watch other players and see what they do, but I get to see Steve every training session. He trains well and works hard and afterwards goes out there and plays as he trains. He is one of the best players in the world and can be a key player for the national team.
"England have got a lot of good players and I have a lot of respect for the manager. Gerrard can play in three or four different positions because he is a top-class player. The manager must decide what to do with him. He is more mature now with every trophy, and with every game he plays at this level, he is a little bit better."
Gerrard, who scored his side's equaliser in injury time to take the game to 3-3 and extra time, said that the European Cup final victory over Milan last season had taught Liverpool that "when we're down we're not buried" . He also scored the second of Liverpool's three successful penalties as their goalkeeper Jose Reina stopped spot-kicks from Bobby Zamora, Paul Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand.
Gerrard said: "The manager asked me if I wanted to take a penalty and I asked if I could have the first. He told me: 'No, you're having the third.' I just thought that I had to get up and hit it as hard as I can. In extra time I just didn't want the ball. I just kept looking at the clock and wanting it to run out. I had absolutely nothing left. For my first goal it just sat up really nice to volley it. For my second I had a bit of luck in there as well."
Liverpool's Harry Kewell suffered a torn groin muscle in the final, scans revealed yesterday, but is expected to be fit to join Australia's World Cup squad.
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