Steven Gerrard has become the first player in Roy Hodgson's squad to publicly express concerns about England's position in their World Cup qualifying group and the possibility that unless there is an improvement, they may end up in the play-offs. It is a possibility, Gerrard said, he did not want to contemplate. "Nothing will be acceptable except us winning this group."

While Italy are four points clear at the top of their group and Germany and Holland both have the luxury of a three-point advantage, England are second in Group H, two points behind the leaders Montenegro. Only the winners qualify automatically and Gerrard goes into Wednesday's friendly against Brazil admitting he is already thinking about the game in Montenegro on 26 March.

"I'm certainly not underestimating where we are and how much there is to do," the England captain said. "I think there is still a lot of hard work to do, that's for sure. We don't want to end up in the play-offs.

"To play Brazil at Wembley is fantastic but there is a little bit in the mind that is already just waiting for the Montenegro game. It is going to be the key game, there is no getting away from that. You can't help but think about it."

England also have to take into account that, while they are three points ahead of Poland, they have also played a game more. Both their matches against Montenegro during the qualifying programme for Euro 2012 finished as draws.

Gerrard, England's player of the year, believes the key to winning the group will be keeping important players fit. "It was a really tough game [against Montenegro] last time and this one will be the same. We've all got to stand up and be counted. But I look at the squad for Brazil and I think you'll agree its probably the strongest squad that Roy has named.

"If we can keep everyone fit on that list of 25 then I'm really confident we'll get through. I look around at the players and that gives me confidence we can go there and get a big win. And if we get three points in Montenegro, it puts us back in the driving seat."

Daniel Sturridge has joined Jermain Defoe and Michael Carrick in pulling out of the Brazil game because of injury but Hodgson has decided not to call up replacements for the night Ashley Cole wins his 100th cap.

Gerrard, one of the other six players in England's "100 Club", is urging the Wembley crowd to show Cole respect. "It's very important. If the crowd take a moment to think about what he has given in an England shirt over the last 10 to 12 years its been phenomenal. He has probably been the most consistent player I've played with.

"It's going to be Ashley's night and the players are certainly going to show him a hell of a lot of support. Let's hope the fans do as well. He has been the best left-back in the world and we've been lucky to have him. I think the supporters realise that."