Stand-in captain Gerrard backs McClaren

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LONDON, Nov 12 (Reuters) Midfielder Steven Gerrard today came to the defence of Steve McClaren, saying he should remain manager even if England fail to qualify for Euro 2008.

Gerrard will captain England in a friendly against Austria on Friday and in their final Group E qualifier against Croatia at Wembley on Nov. 21.

McClaren's side could go into that Croatia match needing a miracle, in the form of Andorra at least drawing with Russia on the same night, to progress to next year's tournament.

''I'm certainly backing him,'' Gerrard told Sky Sports News.

''I'm sure all the other players are as well. I think he's the right man for the job.

''It is down to the players to take the criticism, as well as the manager and the coaching staff, the players have got to take the responsibility.'' England realistically need Israel to take at least a point from their home game against Russia on Saturday to ensure that the Croatia game is not a dead rubber.

''We are in a bit of a difficult situation and it's really frustrating having it in other people's hands and waiting for other results,'' said Gerrard, who is captaining the side in place of injured defender John Terry.

''But we have got to try and be positive and hopefully Israel can do us a favour at the weekend and then we can put all our efforts and concentration into the Croatia game. We are not giving up yet.'' Group leaders Croatia, with 26 points, are assured of qualifying. England are second with 23 points and one match remaining and Russia are third on 21 with two games left.

REUTERS YA RAI2334

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