Lampard hails Cole while awaiting return of fellow stalwarts
Frank Lampard has backed England’s returning stars to fire the Three Lions to World Cup qualification.
Roy Hodgson’s men moved a point clear at the top of Group H with a 0-0 draw in Ukraine on Tuesday, but the performance at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev drew stinging criticism from former England striker Gary Lineker.
The ex-Tottenham Hotspur forward, who scored 48 goals for his country, mocked England’s passing and described the team’s overall performance as “awful”.
Lampard argues that a point in front of a hostile 70,000 crowd was not a bad result, especially when England were missing a number of their top players like Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck.
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The only way that England will definitely qualify for Brazil will be if they beat Montenegro and Poland next month, but Lampard is confident that the team will be able to do it with their best attacking players available.
“Playing two games at home and with the way we have been performing there lately, I fancy us to do it,” Lampard said.
“We will have to tackle that one in a month’s time. The first thing here was not to lose and it was a shame that we couldn’t win the game, but we have to believe in ourselves that we can go and do it next month.
“We all know how difficult it is when you go away in competition football in the group games. Of course we wanted to win, but you have to dig in sometimes and we did that in the second half.
“We will be stronger with the options we’ll have [when Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck return], but I thought Rickie Lambert did very well holding the ball up and he worked his socks off – he’s got real quality.
“But the options you are talking about – when you are without Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, the form striker in the Premier League, then of course you are going to miss players like that.
“We will be stronger when they come back because you want to choose from all your fit players. Unfortunately,” he added, “there will always be a couple of injured players at any stage in an England squad of 24 or whatever.
“The team have to react and get results like we did here,” said Lampard, who became the eighth England player to reach the 100-cap mark.
The 35-year-old admitted it was a special night for him, even though he missed a late chance to make it even more memorable. Such is Lampard’s self-deprecating manner, however, that he did not want to spend much time talking about his achievement.
The England vice-captain spoke at length about the influence of another of his fellow centurions, though – Chelsea team-mate Ashley Cole.
Cole moved level with Billy Wright on 105 caps in Kiev and he used every ounce of his experience to stifle the pace and trickery of Ukraine forward Andriy Yarmolenko.
“I thought Ashley was fantastic. He was our best player, in fact,” Lampard declared, in reference to the 32-year-old left-back. “He has great awareness – people talk about him going forward but defensively he is absolutely top drawer.
“He has done it many times for England, Chelsea and Arsenal before that. He really rises to the task of playing against top-class wide men. Ukraine had very good wingers and Ashley blocked them off straight away.”
Hodgson stands on the brink of joining an elite group of coaches who have qualified England for a World Cup.
Victories at Wembley against Montenegro and Poland next month will confirm England’s presence in Brazil. It would mean Hodgson’s name could be added to a list of men that guided the national side to football’s biggest show on earth that includes Walter Winterbottom, Sir Alf Ramsey, Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson, Glenn Hoddle, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello.
Hodgson has been there once before, steering Switzerland to the 1994 finals in the United States, which England missed out on as Graham Taylor’s time in charge turned sour. However, while the 66-year-old accepts the pride he would feel at such an achievement, he is anxious to deflect the praise.
“It would mean a lot, but qualifying would mean most to me from England’s point of view,” he said. We are in a situation where there is a slight change taking place.
“We are lucky to still have some members of the old guard, but there are a lot of other players who don’t have that experience.
“I believe so strongly in this group of players because they have some fantastic qualities So, if they get to a World Cup, I would probably be happier for them than any individual plaudit I might get for reaching the World Cup with a couple of teams.
“I have to say, 1994 seems so long ago now. I don’t even remember if I was there. It might have been a dream.”