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Jagielka backs Gerrard

Everton captain Phil Jagielka believes Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard is the only player who can be confident of a starting place over the next year as England chase a place in the World Cup finals.

• Hodgson backs Zaha

Roy Hodgson's side lie second in Group H with four games to play, two points behind leaders Montenegro. Only the group winners qualify automatically for next year's finals in Brazil, with the runners-up going into a play-off.

Jagielka is hoping to play a major part at the finals as he is one of the leading contenders for a spot in central defence, with John Terry and Rio Ferdinand both having retired from international football.

The 30-year-old is in contention to win his 17th cap when England face Republic of Ireland in a friendly at Wembley on Wednesday, before Hodgson's men head off to face Brazil in Rio de Janeiro next Sunday.

Gerrard will miss both games as he recovers from shoulder surgery, but Jagielka acknowledged that the Liverpool captain is the only man who can feel confident of a regular place.

Jagielka told the Mail on Sunday: "There is tough competition in all positions. It's not just the centre-backs - even the full-backs aren't guaranteed places these days and I look on that as a positive.

"The squad probably don't have as many so-called top-level players as we've had in the past, like David Beckham, so it could be any one of 30 players starting in August and at the World Cup.

"There isn't really anyone nailed down. Possibly Stevie but he's getting that bit older and I see him changing his game for England a bit."

Jagielka believes that Gerrard, who will celebrate his 33rd birthday on Thursday, is likely to abandon his all-action style and adopt the role of a deep-lying playmaker, similar to Italy and Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo.

The Everton centre-back added: "He's still got the range of passing. Pirlo doesn't move around much but still gets in and makes things happen. If Stevie does that and doesn't run around as much – with his range of passing – that could make us stronger."

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