Skipper Steven Gerrard has called on England to make a statement of intent in their opening Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria tomorrow night.
England have still to shake off the lingering disappointment of their abject World Cup display, will look to put in a good display in front of an expectant home crowd at Wembley.
Gerrard’s two goals were the high point of last month’s unconvincing friendly victory against Hungary in what was England’s first outing since the World Cup, and the Liverpool midfielder concedes the pressure is on the players and manager Fabio Capello to prove that a corner has been turned.
“The players and the manager realise that we are under pressure at the moment, which is normal after underperforming at the World Cup,” said Gerrard.
“It’ll really help if we put in a good performance tomorrow and get the maximum points. Then we can obviously take the confidence from that into the Switzerland game on Tuesday.
“It’s very important that we make a statement and show that we want to win the group and qualify comfortably.
“We qualified for the World Cup playing good, attacking football. If we can perform at that level I’m sure we’ll get out of this group in similar fashion.
“The difficult thing is there’s slightly more pressure on us this time around and we have to cope with that.
“We’ve certainly got the exciting players in the squad to get off to a good start.”
With Rio Ferdinand still a little way from a return to the international fold after this week making his comeback from the knee injury that ruled him out of the World Cup, Gerrard will again don the captain's armband tomorrow, and he revealed he is relishing the role.
“I’m enjoying being captain,” he said.
“I captained Liverpool for many, many years and thrive on the responsibility and my performances for England lately have been good and I’m happy with my form.”
Asked whether he might be employed in a more attacking role against the Bulgarians following on from his two goals last time out, Gerrard replied: “We’ll have to wait and see. The team hasn’t been picked yet.
“Obviously I relish that position on the pitch where I can get forward and support the attacking players, so we’ll have to wait and see what the manager decides to do, but I would love that opportunity.”
With the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch sidelined by injury, and others such as David James, Ledley King and the retired Jamie Carragher out of the picture, tomorrow night’s game represents another chance for the next generation of international aspirants to stake their claim.
“After the team underperformed in South Africa there have been changes made, and with injuries to big players as well it’s a fantastic opportunity for players to perform well and give the manager something to think about when we get together again,” Gerrard added.