Gerrard, Parker key to England’s Euro 2012 advance

They are the enforcers who have powered an unheralded England

side into the European Championship quarterfinals.

Captain Steven Gerrard, the catalyst in central midfield, has

created three goals alongside the combative Scott Parker, who has

tirelessly protected the back four.

”Myself and Stevie have clicked really well this tournament,”

Parker said. ”We’re well organized. I know his game pretty well

now and I’m sure he knows mine. We give the team a good base to

work from, and hopefully we can maintain that.”

Despite injury troubles in recent years, their energy and

tenacity has been unrelenting as a gritty side went through the

group stage unbeaten and is now preparing to face Italy on Sunday

in Kiev.

”I am sure we can keep it going,” Parker said. ”It’s been a

tough few games, but like anything when you come into a major

tournament and are playing against the best teams in Europe, it’s

always going to be pretty tough.”

As Wayne Rooney took the plaudits for making a goal-scoring

return from suspension in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Ukraine, it

was Gerrard who set up the header as he sprayed balls into the

danger zone while also maintaining English discipline as they faced

waves of attacks.

”He’s been our man of the match in all three games, playing a

captain’s innings throughout,” coach Roy Hodgson said, reverting

to cricketing terminology.

The 32-year-old Gerrard, who has won 95 caps, has set up three

of England’s five goals at Euro 2012 despite playing in a deeper

role.

”We have all come to see Stevie in an attacking role playing

further up the pitch,” Parker said. ”But when you have the

qualities and the abilities of Steven, you can adapt into it pretty

well and I think you are seeing that now.

”He’s obviously got a bit more of a defensive role, but in

saying that, he has produced some great assists since he’s

played.”

Gerrard’s leadership qualities have shone since the Liverpool

skipper also assumed the national captaincy that was removed from

John Terry because of the defender’s looming racism trial.

”Steven has been a fantastic player for many, many years,”

Liverpool and England teammate Glen Johnson said. ”But with the

armband I think he feels he needs to step up just that tiny bit

more, and I think he’s done it more than anyone so far.”

A tournament-ending thigh injury for Frank Lampard meant Hodgson

didn’t have to solve the conundrum that has vexed England coaches

over the years: how to fit Lampard and Gerrard in the same

team.

But Parker was an injury doubt after missing the last four

matches of Tottenham’s season with an Achilles’ injury, and a

painkilling injection was required to hasten the recovery, ensuring

the holding midfielder would make the Euros.

”We lost some big players who had to drop out through injury

like Frank and Gareth (Barry), which was disappointing,” Parker

said. ”But myself and Stevie have taken on the challenge and

hopefully we can carry on.”

After winning his first four caps under four different managers,

the 31-year-old Parker only established himself as an England

regular during qualifying for Euro 2012.

The key role given to him by former coach Fabio Capello has

remained under Hodgson, enabling Parker to make his tournament

debut here.

Tuesday’s appearance against Ukraine was only Parker’s 16th

since making his debut nine years ago.

And he’s hoping to win another three caps at Euro 2012 to reach

the final.

”We have a real togetherness and commitment in the squad and,

ultimately, that can get you a long way,” he said. ”We’ve seen

that last season with Chelsea (winning the Champions League) and

other teams.

”Fundamentally, they are the main key ingredients of why we can

go and progress further. It’s going to be a very tough game against

an Italian side that are very well prepared and organized, with

individual qualities. If we carry on doing what we are doing, we

can maybe upset them.”

They will have to contain the heartbeat of the Italy side:

playmaker Andrea Pirlo, who managed two assists and one goal in the

group stage.

”You want to pit your wits against the best,” Parker said.

”Pirlo is one of those – the clips I have seen of him in this

tournament, his passing ability, his control of the game is

fantastic.”