Hardy Lampard lifts England's spirits after Gerrard injury

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The Independent Online

It hardly amounts to an injury crisis, but England arrived here last night with another question mark over their line-up for the opening game of their World Cup qualifying campaign.

It hardly amounts to an injury crisis, but England arrived here last night with another question mark over their line-up for the opening game of their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Sven Goran Eriksson, having already had to revise his game plan for tomorrow night's match against Austria because of an injury to Nicky Butt, will learn today whether Steven Gerrard is in danger of missing out. The Liverpool midfielder withdrew from the latter stages of training yesterday because of a tight groin and will have a fitness test this morning to assess whether he can take part in today's final practice session.

Although the England camp are confident that Gerrard will face the Austrians, the midfield has suddenly become an area of concern. After selecting the same starting quartet throughout Euro 2004 - David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and Gerrard - Eriksson has already had to revise his thinking twice following the international retirement of Scholes and the hamstring injury suffered by Butt, who had been lined up to play at the base of the Swede's favoured diamond formation.

With the season less than a month old, Eriksson could hardly have imagined that injuries would play such a big part in his planning for the World Cup qualifiers here and against Poland in Katowice on Wednesday. Wayne Rooney, Sol Campbell and Jonathan Woodgate are all unfit, while Rio Ferdinand remains suspended.

In the circumstances, Eriksson is especially grateful for the durability of men like Lampard, who played a remarkable 70 matches last season, including all seven of England's competitive fixtures and five of their six friendlies. He was also Chelsea's only Premiership ever-present and appeared in all 14 Champions' League games plus four matches in the FA Cup and two in the Carling Cup.

"I'm 26 years of age so I should be somewhere towards my peak fitness, if I'm not there already," Lampard said during a break from preparing for tomorrow's match. "I enjoy playing regularly, every three or four days. It keeps my momentum going. When you feel confident and you feel on top of your game you want to keep playing. That's how footballers are.

"Every player is different. Not all players can run around for 50, 60 or 70 games a season. Some players need rest at the right time and that's for them, the manager, the physio and the backroom staff to look at. If people feel tired, they feel tired. You need to keep your top players in top condition.

"At Chelsea it's always going to be the case that you might not play week in week out. That goes for everyone. There's such a strong squad of players there that there will be top players who aren't playing 50 or 60 games a season. I was lucky enough to do that last year, but that doesn't give me the right to do that this year."

He added: "Somebody told me that I've started the last seven England games. Starting games regularly for England is something I've been wanting to do. For a while I was playing perhaps half a game as a substitute. It's been mentioned that it takes maybe 20 games to get accustomed to international football and I can really understand that now. It was only from the Euro 2004 games that I started to feel more confident and comfortable playing at the top level."

The Austrians, meanwhile, will be able to select from a fully fit party of 23, although a first-choice defender, Anton Ehmann, was not selected for the squad because of injury. The major question for Hans Krankl, the coach, will be who to select in goal, with Alex Manninger, the former Arsenal player, one of three contenders.

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