99 and counting
By Chris Hatherall
Tuesday, 16 October, 2012
Evergreen Steven Gerrard says there's no nerves ahead of his 99th cap
For a cricketer they call it the nervous 90s, but when Steven Gerrard leads out England in Warsaw to win his 99th cap tonight, his primary emotion is likely to be pride.
Skipper Gerrard will end the game tantalisingly close to joining the 'century club', which at present includes just five players in Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Billy Wright.
But the Liverpool midfielder said: "It's not the nervous 90s. I'm coming to my 99th cap but I'm loving it as much as if it was my first.
"I've been around the set-up an awful long time. I don't feel old, I'm not getting bored with it. I still feel fresh, looking forward to the game as much as my debut."
Gerrard has good reason to be enthused when you consider England's recent results under new Manager Roy Hodgson.
And he has even more reasons to be cheerful when taking into account a string of highly promising young players starting to make an impact in the Three Lions squad.
He said: “I'm excited about the youth breaking through to give us that balance. I think it is an exciting time to be an England player.
“Maybe in the past they weren't there, but the proof is there now. The Cleverleys and Welbecks are pushing for regular starts in this team.
“We're aware of that. It's good. It keeps everyone on their toes and will raise performances, individually and collectively.
"I didn't really know it would happen like this. It came up after the Euros, about trying to move forward and getting a stronger group of players.
“But it’s important not to get carried away with these youngsters. There's a long way to go but there's certainly talent there to give us optimism for the future.”
Such enthusiasm means that although Wayne Rooney did an excellent job as stand-in captain against San Marino, Gerrard has no plans to hand over the armband for any longer than is necessary.
Gerrard, 32, added: "I'm hoping Wayne will have to wait a while. I'm really enjoying the role. I had to wait a long time for it to come and I want to enjoy it before I pass it over."
It's not only Gerrard who is close to the century mark, of course. Ashley Cole could also make his 99th appearance in Warsaw tonight - meaning England's visit to face Sweden in Stockholm next month, or their home match against Brazil in February, could turn into a double-hundred celebration to remember.
England's leader, as you would expect, is full of praise for left-back Cole and the contribution he has made to the national team,
He said: "Ashley’s a top player. It's been an absolute pleasure to play with him over the years. He's been one of the best left-backs this country has ever produced."
But Gerrard's biggest concern is leading the new England into a new era - and protecting a record that has seen the Three Lions remain unbeaten over 90 minutes under Hodgson, with only Italy at Euro 2012 getting the better of them on penalties.
He said: “We're unbeaten at the moment. At the moment, things are going well.
"When the Manager got the job I had a slight advantage because I knew what his tactics were about, how he'd want his team to play defensively and attacking-wise.
“But the other players have taken it on board quickly. We've still got a lot of improving to do, but it's going well so far.”
There will certainly be a lot of fans hoping Gerrard and Co can keep the feel good factor going in Warsaw tonight - and maybe get a little bit closer to their own personal moment of history in the process.
What better way could there be to start The FA's 150th anniversary year in 2013 than with the England team on a roll and two new centurions to celebrate?
England players closing in on a century of caps:
Steven Gerrard 98
Ashley Cole 98
Frank Lampard 93
Rio Ferdinand 81
Wayne Rooney 76