Steven Gerrard has told his England team-mates it is “time to deliver” as they prepare for Wednesday night’s make-or-break Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia.
Israel’s win over Russia on Saturday means England need just a draw at Wembley to secure a place in next year’s tournament.
And Gerrard, captain in the absence of John Terry, admitted hanging on for a favour from the Israelis had been a distraction.
But he said: “It was a difficult weekend when it wasn’t in our hands.
“But as soon as we knew we had a lifeline we were 100% focused on the Croatia game. Now it’s time to deliver on the pitch.”
There had been reports Terry would have recovered from a month-long absence with a knee injury in time to play against the Croatians.
But Gerrard confirmed the Chelsea defender – who joined in training on Tuesday morning – would not be fit, although he will be at Wembley to support the team.
“I’ve spoken to John and he tells us he’s not ready but he’ll still be there and be a big help to all the players,” he said.
Gerrard also backed Peter Crouch to prosper as a lone striker should England manager Steve McClaren opt for a 4-5-1 formation.
“I’m sure he can handle that and it’s down to the other players to make sure he’s not isolated,” Gerrard added.
Gerrard will take immense pride in leading the side in a match which will determine their Euro 2008 fate – but he also stresses the importance of a former captain.
David Beckham has seen his place on the right side of midfield questioned since a poor showing in the friendly win over Austria last week, but Gerrard insists he remains an important figure.
“I’m very proud to lead this side. For England it probably is (my biggest game as captain). But I’ve captained Liverpool in enough big games to know what it’s all about,” Gerrard told Sky Sports News.
“To come off the pitch on Wednesday night knowing we’d qualified would be great.
“David’s a big player too, and he was the captain of this side for a long time.
“He’s got experience and he’s very important, especially for the younger boys who he is a great help to.
“But whoever he [McClaren] chooses will have to be ready. It’s not just about 11 players – every single player has to be ready.”
Gerrard also went on to insist England’s qualification campaign, despite some obvious low points, can only be truly judged once all the matches were played.
“I suppose we can feel slightly fortunate; we had a bit of luck and we did need other people to help us,” said the midfielder.
“But tables don’t lie – everybody in football knows that. If we qualify on Wednesday we will deserve it.”