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Gerrard keen to impart old magic to world stage

Knowing that the World Cup is perfectly set up for him, Gerrad hopes to perform well on the international stage.

india Updated: May 15, 2006 13:55 IST

By the time the World Cup final comes around on July 9, Steven Gerrard could have been playing continuous football for just four days short of a full year.

But if the Liverpool midfielder is beginning to feel fatigued, there was precious little sign of it in the FA Cup final.

Two goals, including a stoppage time equaliser from nearly 30 yards, were followed by a nerveless penalty in the shootout that sunk West Ham as Gerrard deservedly picked up the man-of-the match award.

It was another demonstration of Gerrard's ability to produce inspirational match-winning performances in the biggest games for his club, bringing back stirring memories of how he inspired the European Cup's greatest ever fight back in the final in Istanbul last year.

England fans have seen flashes of that much-desired quality, most notably in his performance in Munich five years ago when the national side salvaged their 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign by beating Germany 5-1.

At the time, Gerrard seemed destined to go on and establish himself as England's natural leader, the player around whom the national side would be built.

It has not worked out like that. The need for surgery to correct a groin problem that was causing recurring back and thigh injuries forced Gerrard to miss out on the 2002 World Cup and, by his own admission, he failed to live up to his pre-tournament billing at Euro 2004.

"I do feel that I've not done myself justice yet with England," he confided recently. "There have not been too many matches when I've been fully happy with my performance, and I'm desperate to put that right."

Many feel that Gerrard's impact in Portugal was reduced by the requirement for him to take on too many defensive responsibilities in a midfield also containing the attack-minded Frank Lampard.

That issue is likely to surface again in Germany although the likely absence of Wayne Rooney could force Sven-Goran Eriksson to deploy the Liverpool skipper in a more attacking role.

The distraction caused by an approach from Chelsea may also have been a factor in his underperformance at Euro 2004 and Gerrard also spent several weeks at the end of the 2004/05 seasons agonising over the possibility of quitting his hometown club.

Thankfully for England fans, there seems little prospect of his focus wavering from the job in hand this summer.

"I'm settled and happy at Liverpool and I am not going to go through another summer like the last two," he said last month. "I will be staying here until the day someone tells me they don't want me."

Gerrard, who turns 26 on May 30th, can be confident of still being around when the World Cup is held in South Africa in four years time.

But he knows that this tournament is perfectly set up for him. Physically he is at his peak and, with 40 caps and six goals for England since making his debut six years ago, he knows what to expect on the international stage.

The prime concern must be about how the midfielder's body will cope with an intense month-long tournament in the wake of grueling 10-month season with Liverpool in which their captain marvel made an astonishing 57 appearances for club and country.

"Maybe I am surprised that I am going so well after so many games because people were concerned at the beginning of the season about how many games I would be playing," Gerrard admitted.

"But I always knew that if I got my body right, and everyone knows how many injuries I have had in my career, I would be fine. It has surprised me a little, but I have been looking after myself on and off the pitch."

That process includes taking a two-week break in the wake of the FA Cup final and England fans everywhere will be hoping Gerrard's batteries don't run flat in Germany.

First Published: May 15, 2006 13:55 IST