Lampard can be the final piece in England's midfield jigsaw

England 6 Iceland 1
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The Independent Online

It is not just the temporary euphoria of a 6-1 win over Iceland - after all, England's next opponents are France, not Sainsbury's or Asda - that prompts the argument that the national team which leaves these shores today is better prepared than any of its predecessors and many of its opponents.

Incredibly, not since Sir Alf Ramsey's World Cup winners flew to Mexico to defend their trophy in 1970 has an England coach gone into a tournament with the luxury of fielding his preferred starting XI beforehand as Eriksson did last week. And unlike Ramsey, Sven Goran Eriksson is accompanied by an army of support staff including three masseurs and a chef.

This is also a settled group. Despite having fewer friendlies to play with, Eriksson's policy of mass substitutions enabled him to filter out the possibles from the probables long ago. Going into recent tournaments other England managers have still been giving debuts to potential players.

Eriksson's only experimentation last week was to switch from a diamond to a flat midfield four. This may indicate indecision, but alternatively it can be interpreted as equipping England with options. Either way it has been forced upon Eriksson by Frank Lampard's form, and Nicky Butt's lack of it. The flat four enables him to include England's four best midfielders: Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Paul Scholes. One experienced critic thought his quartet had the potential to match France's musketeers in 1984: Michel Platini, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Luis Fernandez. This observer's only caveat, given the way the four performed against Iceland, is the space afforded on the left by Scholes' penchant to drift. This enabled him to be devastating in attack but left Ashley Cole exposed. The French may be inclined to ask Robert Pires to exploit this.

Eriksson admitted: "If Scholes comes in and we lose the ball we won't have the correct shape. Hopefully we can cope and delay the player. You can't expect Gerrard or Lampard to cover because then we lose the shape in the centre. It is better to lose it on the flank. They won't score out there."

For Eriksson the big bonus is the avoidance of injury. Only the suspended Rio Ferdinand is absent from his ideal squad. Beckham has an ankle infection and a bursa cyst - a fluid-filled sac - had to be lanced on his back on Saturday, but were it any other player this would merit only a few lines, not headlines. More worrying is the hamstring twinge being felt by John Terry.

Such injuries can linger and though Jamie Carragher was solid on Saturday there is a lack of experienced cover. Wayne Rooney also has a touch of influenza - not that it was obvious in his finishing on Saturday, though he did again look short of condition. Beckham, Rooney and Terry, are all expected to train in Lisbon tomorrow.

By contrast, Spain, France, Russia, Sweden and Denmark have lost players of the quality of Michel Salgado, Ludovic Guily, Victor Onopko, Michael Svensson and Morten Wieghorst in recent weeks, England's group opponents, Switzerland, have lost four players and the Dutch, having lost Marc van Bommel, are now fretting over the fitness of Clarence Seedorf.

Eriksson can sympathise. Two years ago, before the World Cup, he was in the same position. "Gary Neville was out, and Steven Gerrard. I was worrying about David Beckham - would he be fit? could he play? - and there were problems with Kieron Dyer and Danny Murphy. The build-up was all about problems.

"I am more confident this time. We don't have any injuries, just some small knocks. That is the most important thing going into a tournament. The fitness level is OK now, some players are very fit already. This win is a big confidence boost, maybe some teams will see it and be apprehensive about us." Sensing the headlines Eriksson swiftly added: "But we haven't won anything yet."

The Swede's main regret about Saturday will have been Scholes' continuing inability to score. The Manchester United midfielder is feeling the weight of his three-year international drought and kicked the net in frustration after failing to turn in Gary Neville's excellent fourth-minute cross. With England taking time to sort their Gudjohnsens from their Gudjonssons, and Lampard wasting a free header, the game was thus a quarter old before the first goal arrived.

It was a goal which highlighted the benefit of liberating Lampard, the Chelsea player bursting from midfield, exchanging passes with Scholes, then driving a deflected shot past Arni Arason. Two minutes later Neville ran intelligently on to Beckham's throw-in and squared for Rooney to score. The teenager soon added his fifth goal for England - already as many as Les Ferdinand, Gerry Hitchens, and previous Evertonian heroes, Fred Pickering and Bob Latchford. It was a beauty, half-volleyed in from nearly 30 yards after another of Scholes' clever lay-offs.

Sloppy defending, indicating a loss of concentration, enabled Watford's Heidar Helguson to head in a riposte but there was no let-up for Iceland. On came England's second string to add another three. Darius Vassell, profiting from a deflection on Owen Hargreaves' shot and a neat exchange with Emile Heskey, took his international tally to six. In between, Wayne Bridge volleyed in after good work from Butt and Heskey. Only Joe Cole, who missed a sitter and continued to hog the ball when a quick pass would have done, disappointed.

"I was very happy with the second half," said Eriksson. "I told them you do not have to show me you can beat five men in the wrong part of the pitch. Show me you can play disciplined, one-touch football. They did."

"Except Joe Cole," responded a hack. Eriksson rolled his eyes in assent. One Chelsea midfielder has cracked it this week; the other is still to learn.

Goals: Lampard (24) 1-0; Rooney (26) 2-0; Rooney (37) 3-0; Helguson (41) 3-1; Vassell (56) 4-1; Bridge (67) 5-1; Vassell (76) 6-1.

England (first half, 4-4-2): Robinson (Tottenham); G Neville (Manchester Utd), Campbell (Arsenal), Carragher (Liverpool), A Cole (Arsenal); Beckham (Real Madrid), Gerrard (Liverpool), Lampard (Chelsea), Scholes (Manchester Utd); Owen (Liverpool), Rooney (Everton).

England (second half, 4-4-2): Robinson (Tottenham); P Neville (Man Utd), Carragher (Liverpool), King (Tottenham), Bridge (Chelsea); Dyer (Newcastle), Butt (Manchester Utd), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), J Cole (Chelsea); Vassell (Aston Villa), Heskey (Birmingham). Second half substitutes:Walker (Leicester) for Robinson, 61; Defoe (Tottenham) for Carragher, 73.

Iceland (3-4-1-2): Arason (Manchester C); Ingimarsson (Reading), Marteinsson (Hammarby), Hreidarsson (Charlton); T Gudjonsson (Las Palmas), Gretarsson (Lokeren), J K Gudjonsson (Real Betis), I Sigurdsson (Genk); Gudjohnsen (Chelsea); H Sigurdsson (AGF), Helguson (Watford).

Substitutes: K O Sigurdsson (KR Reykjavik) for Marteinsson, h/t; B Gudjonsson (Bochum) for H Sigurdsson, 68; Jonsson (IFK Gothenburg) for I Sigurdsson, 77; J Gudmundsson (Orgryte) for T Gudjsonsson, 77; Helgason (Landskrona) for J K Gudjonsson 86; T Gudmundsson (Orgryte) for Helguson, 85.

Referee: J Wegereef (Netherlands).

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