JOHNSON HAILS CAPTAIN GERRARD
Glen Johnson feels Steven Gerrard has stepped up his game to an even higher level since being appointed England captain - but feels the whole team deserve more respect for reaching the quarter-finals at Euro 2012.
The full-back has identified midfielder Gerrard as England's standout player so far, with Roy Hodgson's team having surprised many by progressing to the last eight as winners of Group D.
Johnson believes Gerrard has revelled in the added responsibility of captaincy, having taken on the role on a full-time basis when Hodgson took charge last month.
"Steven has been a fantastic player for many, many years, 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," Johnson told reporters at England's training base in Krakow on Friday morning.
England face Italy in Kiev on Sunday aiming to reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time in 16 years, and asked if they warranted more respect from their critics, Liverpool full-back Johnson said: "Yeah, I guess so.
"But, inside the camp, no-one thinks like that. It's only people outside the camp. So, it's not really important."
Johnson has had more than his fair share of doubters at both club and international level.
Yet, despite right-back having been arguably the most fiercely-contested position in the team for the past two years, he has once again made it his own when it matters most.
The 27-year-old said it was down to others to judge whether he was now the undisputed first choice.
But he added: "I played all the games in the World Cup, I played the majority of the games from then to now.
"I've played all the games here, so I'd have to be in contention, wouldn't I?
"Every player wants to have a run in any side they play in.
"No-one wants to come in for one game then not play for a few months and come in for another.
"If you're going to play, you want to play almost every possible opportunity."
Johnson senses supporters in Poland and Ukraine, as well as back at home, are getting behind the team, with ITV's coverage of Tuesday's final group match against Ukraine attracting a reported peak audience of 18.5 million.
Asked if a new bond was developing with the fans, Johnson said: "I'd agree with that.
"I've just been told about the record rating of viewers for the game.
"The fans are there to support and it feels like we're a big, tight unit."
Johnson declared the tournament wide open now that it has reached the knockout stages.
"Any team in the tournament has got a chance of winning it," he added.
"The first objective was to get out of the group.
"We did that very well by winning the group, so now it's a one-off game and, in a one-off game, you can beat anyone."
Johnson has been touted among the favourites to take one of the first five penalties and he said: "If the opportunity arose, you'd step up. Everyone might have to.
"But, no, we haven't spoken about it. Obviously, you can't control things like that.
"It might happen, it might not."
Johnson was speaking before England's latest training session, in which all 23 members of the squad took part.
That included Ashley Young, who suffered a knock to the shin in Tuesday's Group D win over Ukraine, and Jermain Defoe, who is back with the squad after flying home to attend his father's funeral.
It was impossible to glean England's likely starting line-up from a practise exercise between those wearing bibs and those not during the open part of the session, with players who started against Ukraine scattered among the two teams.
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