Hart can be our match-winner, says Gerrard
KIEV: England captain Steven Gerrard believes goalkeeper Joe Hart could prove the decisive influence as his team attempts to end their quarter-final curse against Italy here Sunday.
Gerrard said the in-form Hart is poised to become recognised as the world’s best goalkeeper in future and may well tip Sunday’s Euro 2012 battle with the Azzurri in England’s favour.
“We’ve got one of the best goalkeepers in the world and eventually he will go on to be the best in the world,” Gerrard said of Hart.
“His performances so far in the tournament have been fantastic. He’s going to be one of our key players tomorrow night.
“We need Joe to perform to his maximum level because at some time in the game, or maybe in extra-time or even penalties he’s going to be called upon to make a fantastic save — and we all trust he can do that.”
England head into Sunday’s tie at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium in buoyant mood after topping Group D ahead of highly rated France.
A five-match unbeaten streak since Roy Hodgson was appointed as manager last month has fuelled genuine belief that England could reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time since 1996.
Gerrard, 32, was a member of England sides beaten in the quarter-finals at the 2004 European Championship and the 2006 World Cup.
However the inspirational midfielder is confident of a different outcome against Italy following England’s displays in the first round.
“The level of performance of the team and the squad so far in this tournament gives me the confidence and belief,” Gerrard said.
“I think in previous tournaments the reason we’ve gone out is because the level of performance has been under what we’re capable of.
“I think we’ve got stronger as the tournament’s gone on and hopefully that will be the same tomorrow night.”
Meanwhile Hodgson acknowledged England were determined to improve their record against World Cup-winning sides in major tournaments overseas.
So far England have never won a knockout match against an established power when playing outside Wembley.
“It’s a nasty statistic because it’s a very negative one,” Hodgson said.
“The more statistics which can be made to look negative with regard to the nation’s football have got to be statistics that we have to try and do something about.
“But the fact is you don’t change statistics by talking. You change statistics by getting on to the field of play and hopefully winning a game that you haven’t for a long time and putting that statistic to bed.”