STEVEN GERRARD has warned his England teammates they are likely to be in for a long and miserable summer if they do not beat Uruguay tonight.
Gerrard, along with vicecaptain Frank Lampard and manager Roy Hodgson, addressed the squad at their hotel 24 hours after the 2-1 defeat to Italy and the message from the skipper was clear.
Gerrard told the 22 attentive faces in the audience that they, for the most part, played well in Manaus, but he also reminded them that they are now on the brink of World Cup elimination.
If England lose against Uruguay, only a highly unlikely set of circumstances will allow them to progress, while a draw would leave the Three Lions needing a favour from Italy in the final group game.
“It was important for them to realise what is at stake and how important this game is,” the England captain said.
“We have got a must-win scenario.
“It wasn’t a message to scare any of the lads but a wake-up call to everyone in the room – the staff and the players.”
Gerrard was the perfect man to deliver that message.
After all, he knows better than anyone in the squad what it is like to go home from a major tournament early.
The list of premature exits in Gerrard’s international career is as long as it is disappointing.
In Euro 2000, he was part of Kevin Keegan’s squad that failed to make it out of their group. He then experienced heartbreaking back-to-back penalty shoot-out defeats in 2004 and 2006.
And his last two tournaments have ended in disappointing second-round exits.
“It could be a terrible long, frustrating summer if we don’t get it right on Thursday,” the Liverpool midfielder said.
“There is no hiding place for a player when you go out of a tournament.
“It can be tough as a player and it can take an awful long time to get over it.
“I have been there. I know what that feeling is about and that is the feeling that I don’t want come Friday morning.
“We need everyone focused and right on it on Thursday, otherwise it will be a terrible, long summer.”
Gerrard may have been hypothesising a doomsday scenario in his speech, but there is no suggestion he does not believe his team-mates can get the job done in Sao Paulo.
Gerrard sat back in his deep midfield role and marvelled at what he saw at times on Saturday. The skipper was enthused by the performances of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck.
And he expects the same attacking mentality from them again in Sao Paulo tonight.
“I know what is going to happen going forward,” Gerrard said. “That is a gimme with the attacking talent we have got in this group. “We have belief and confidence from our attacking play against Italy, and I believe will cause our next two opponents endless problems.”
But there are reservations about England’s defence.
Antonio Candreva gave Leighton Baines the runaround in the jungle, Glen Johnson has looked suspect at times while Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka will have to up their game to shackle Uruguay’s forwards too.
Gerrard added: “For me the key in this game is how we defend because Uruguay’s strengths are in their front players: (Edinson) Cavani, (Luis) Suarez, (Diego) Forlan, and (Gaston) Ramirez.
“They are the key players who can hurt this England team.
“It is no good us being really good going forward on the break if we can’t defend properly.”
Having played alongside Suarez for the last three years, Gerrard knows how much damage the forward can do.
Suarez has been texting Gerrard in the run-up to the game – nothing but “banter”, the Liverpool skipper insists.
But there will be no bonhomie between the pair on Thursday evening.
“If I walk past him in the tunnel I will say hello and shake his hand but at that moment I am not really looking for friends or team-mates,” Gerrard said.
“He knows that once that whistle blows there is no friendship at all between me and Luis Suarez for 90 minutes.”