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Gerrard set for 100th England cap
Steven Gerrard, right, at an England press conference on Tuesday. Pic: Reuters

Steven Gerrard has seen all the highs and lows that have befallen England over the last decade, including three penalty shoot-out defeats in major tournaments.

But something is keeping him going as he earns his 100th cap by captaining his country in a friendly against Sweden in Stockholm on Wednesday.

The Liverpool midfielder, who started his international career in May 2000 under Kevin Keegan, has been one of the symbols of English football for as long as many young fans can remember.

At times it hasn't been easy; after all Gerrard has out-lasted four England managers and faced regular criticism earlier in his career that he was incapable of reproducing his club form at international level.

But earning a century of caps for England puts him in an exclusive club that includes only Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright.

"It's something I never thought I would ever achieve to be honest with you," he said on Monday ahead of the squad's departure for Sweden.

"Growing up and getting turned down at the national school at 14, there have been times when I thought I'd never get one cap.

"The likes of Moore and Charlton will always be heroes of mine and heroes of English football.

"As far as playing for England, there are maybe 14 or 15 heroes. The rest haven't really delivered."

Those words hit at the heart of the pain and frustration that runs through English football; and has done for more than 40 years since Moore captained his country to World Cup glory on home soil in 1966.

Gerrard, who rates his England career as "six or seven out of 10" in comparison to the greats of the past, names a 5-1 victory over Germany in 2001, in which he scored his first ever international goal, as the most memorable of his career so far.

But even that memory is tinged with regret because he was injured for the finals in Japan, where England lost in the quarter-finals to Brazil.

"I'd probably say that was the strongest England team I have played in," he said. "I think we had a great balance of young and experienced players.

"To be honest, I totally agree with a lot of what has been written when people say that group of players under-achieved at big tournaments.

"That team should certainly have got to a semi-final. It is certainly a regret now."

If Gerrard can guide England to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, he could yet get close to Shilton's national record of 125 caps by the time he retires.

Meanwhile, England coach Roy Hodgson revealed he will hand international debuts to Gerrard's Liverpool teammate Raheem Sterling, Steven Caulker and Leon Osman in Wednesday's friendly.

Everton midfielder Osman has been called up for the first time, while Tottenham Hotspur centre-back Steven Caulker and Reds winger Sterling have received call-ups before but are yet to make their debuts.

Hodgson revealed on Tuesday that Caulker will partner Chelsea's Gary Cahill at centre-back, with Osman selected alongside Gerrard and Manchester United's Tom Cleverley in midfield.

Sterling, 17, will form a three-man attack alongside Man United pair Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young at the new Friends Arena in Stockholm.

Five other players are in line to win their first England caps on Wednesday - Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster, Stoke City defender Ryan Shawcross, Chelsea left-back Ryan Bertrand, Arsenal full-back Carl Jenkinson and Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha.

ENGLAND'S OTHER 100-CAP PLAYERS

PETER SHILTON (goalkeeper, 125 caps, 1970-1990)
Shilton began his career at local team Leicester City in 1966 and went on to make over 1000 league appearances for a succession of clubs in a career that spanned 31 years. He played at five major tournaments for England and was a member of the side that reached the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

DAVID BECKHAM (midfielder, 115 caps, 1996-2009)
Now one of the most recognisable men on the planet, London-born Beckham came through the youth ranks at Manchester United and made his England debut under Glenn Hoddle in September 1996. Widely criticised for being sent off as England went out of the 1998 World Cup to Argentina, his injury-time free-kick against Greece took the Three Lions to the 2002 tournament and he also became captain.

BOBBY MOORE (defender, 108 caps, 1962-1973)
A classy central defender, Moore captained England to glory on home soil at the 1966 World Cup and the photograph of his post-match embrace with Pele after a game at the 1970 tournament is one of the sport’s most iconic images. He died in 1993 at the age of 51 and is commemorated by a statue that stands outside Wembley Stadium.

BOBBY CHARLTON (midfielder, 106 caps, 1958-1970)
Charlton played alongside his elder brother, Jack, in the England team that won the 1966 World Cup and was also a member of the Manchester United side that triumphed in the European Cup two years later. Famed for his ferocious long-range shooting with both feet, he remains England’s leading goalscorer with 49 goals.

BILLY WRIGHT (defender, 105 caps, 1946-1959)
The Beckham of his day, Wright married pop star Joy Beverley and was the first player to make 100 appearances for England. A one-club man with Wolverhampton Wanderers, he captained England at three World Cups (1950, 1954 and 1958), and died aged 70 in 1994.