England start their qualification campaign to reach the World Cup in Brazil on Friday night with the captain, Steven Gerrard, urging his players to retain faith in their quality and reminding them that, should they reach the finals, "miracles do happen".

Roy Hodgson will name an experienced lineup for the national side's opening Group H fixture against Moldova, who are ranked 141 in the world, with Michael Carrick expected to make a first competitive appearance since October 2009 alongside Frank Lampard and Gerrard. The Liverpool midfielder acknowledged that, while England must be considered outsiders to become the first European side to claim a World Cup on South American soil, he can see reasons for optimism should the team qualify for the finals.

"When I speak I'm realistic and honest: at the moment, we're not one of the favourites to win the World Cup," Gerrard said. "But that doesn't mean you stop believing or stop working hard to try and improve and learn from the mistakes you've made at previous tournaments. This team has every chance to improve and get better over the next few years, with players coming through and other players who boast experience in the squad. We have to have that faith and keep believing. Miracles do happen in football. That's been proved.

"This is possibly my last [qualification] campaign and we can safely say this is definitely my last World Cup, that's for sure. I'm at that age where I need to make all the time count and give it my best shot. Let's try and make the most of it. But players should be judged on their performances. It doesn't matter how old they are."

Hodgson intends to rely upon his elder statesmen to propel England to the finals in Brazil, allowing younger players to make their mark around the nucleus of an experienced spine. Lampard, Gerrard, John Terry and Carrick will be 36, 34, 33 and 33 respectively in two years' time, and other squad players likely to be considered in the qualification campaign – Gareth Barry, Ashley Cole, Scott Parker, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and Jermain Defoe – will also be well into their 30s by the time the tournament takes place.

Yet Hodgson used the example of the Swiss player Georges Bregy, whom he recalled from the international wilderness for the qualification campaign to reach the World Cup in 1994, as evidence that senior players can be hugely influential. Switzerland finished second behind Italy in an awkward qualifying section, with the Azzurri's manager, Arrigo Sacchi, claiming Bregy was "the best midfielder in the group".

"We have a group that offers the right balance between youth and experience, but I don't write anyone off on grounds of age," Hodgson said. "Am I concerned those players will be in their 30s? No, otherwise I would have made a decision not to use anyone who will be 30-plus at the World Cup, and I'd be speculating on the young ones getting us to Brazil. And there have been a lot of World Cups when people of 35 or 36 have made a fantastic impact. But the first thing we have to do is qualify. People think it'll be a simple task to get there, but we don't believe that. I'll need all the players at my disposal who can get us there. Then we'll see."

England trained at the Zimbru Stadium on Thursday night and, after initial scepticism about the state of the surface, ended the session relatively satisfied. The grass was patchy in places and will be mowed and watered on Friday morning but the coaching staff, including Gary Neville who played on a worse surface at the Republican Stadium across the capital when England last visited in 1996, left with few complaints, though James Milner, Theo Walcott and Lescott did depart the session early. None is thought to be doubtful for the game.

There was, however, an insistence that Ion Caras's Moldova side, who have not registered a goal in their past five matches, should not be taken lightly. The local players will receive a €3,000 per man win bonus should they claim their most eye-catching international scalp on Friday night – and €1,000 should they draw – though Hodgson has studied footage of their recent fixtures extensively and feels his side will be as prepared as is possible.

"We know what we have to do,"the manager said. "But you don't get what you want by saying the right things. You have to be good enough. We're an experienced group of players, some up towards 100 caps, so we don't need reminding there are plenty of banana skins and no free hits out there. If you don't hit that level, you'll be criticised."