Lampard hamstring injury throws open World Cup door for Carrick

Chelsea's midfielder may miss crucial return in Barcelona
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The Independent Football

It is the last friendly before Sven Goran Eriksson picks his World Cup squad but, with Michael Carrick and Darren Bent in the team to face Uruguay tonight, the England side still looklike a work in progress. But while Carrick has a chance to establish himself as England's leading holding midfielder, the implications for Chelsea's Champions' League ambitions are a good deal more serious.

Lampard fears he will now miss the crucial Champions' League second leg game against Barcelona next Tuesday when Jose Mourinho's Chelsea team have to reverse a 2-1 deficit to stay in the competition. Lampard sustained the injury in the first leg and, after intensive treatment, played against Portsmouth in the Premiership on Saturday but broke down in training yesterday and returned to London. A Lampard injury has become a true rarity

over the years and his tight hamstring means that - excluding the tour of America last summer - he misses his first England game since the friendly against Sweden in March 2004.

The consequences for Carrick, however, are much more positive and he has now bypassed his Tottenham team-mate Ledley King as the main candidate for the holding role. With neither Lampard nor Steven Gerrard a natural defensive midfielder, Carrick, 24, will get his chance at Anfield tonight to show Eriksson he can fulfil that role in the World Cup. In the past, King, a centre-back for his club, has played in that position when injuries to Eriksson's midfield have allowed it. But a shaky performance against Argentina in November has persuaded the England manager to opt for Carrick, who performed the role for England during the tour of America and has been the star performer in a Tottenham team who have reached fourth place with ambitions to qualify for the Champions' League this season.

Bent receives his first cap and the chance to prove to Eriksson that he should be taken to Germany ahead of Jermain Defoe. The 22-year-old Charlton striker has never played for the senior England team but, with the squad for Germany named on 15 May, there is no time to wait.

With 17 goals already, Bent has shone in the Premiership this season and is understood to have attracted the attention of Rafael Benitez at Liverpool. Eriksson's decision will be regarded with some concern by Defoe, 23, who has ambitions to be the fourth striker after Wayne Rooney, the injured Michael Owen and Peter Crouch. With Defoe still the favourite, it will take some performance from Bent to change Eriksson's mind.

Bent said: "I know there is not a lot of time left but all I can do is my best for Charlton and just hope it is enough. I have been in every England squad this season but as yet I haven't been sent on. I see a lot of people are saying it is between Jermain and myself for that final striker's place but I don't know that and I think it is a little unfair.

"I have been told Sven has been to watch Charlton a fair bit this season and, hopefully, I have impressed him. Whatever happens, this has been the best season in my career so far. If I can get in that squad and go to Germany, it really will be a dream come true. I don't see it as a competition with Jermain, we are different in our styles. I'm a lot taller for a start, he is a top finisher."

At left-back, Wayne Bridge will deputise for Ashley Cole, whose new injury on Monday night Eriksson described as "a worry". For the rest of the England team, as well as hopes for the World Cup, they are also contemplating life after Eriksson. Privately, among the senior players - with the exception of Beckham - there is little sympathy for Eriksson and concern about his management style, although there is a conviction that the squad have enough about them to have a chance in Germany.

Beckham said that Eriksson's successor should have Champions' League experience which would rule out, at a stroke, Sam Allardyce, Alan Curbishley and Stuart Pearce. "The manager has to have a certain amount of experience, that's part and parcel of being a top-flight manager," Beckham said. "To be able to handle big games like Champions' League and World Cups. You do need to have a certain amount of experience on that side. But that decision will be made by the FA and not me."

These are changing times indeed for Beckham, who spoke for the first time of the resignation this week of Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid president who brought the England captain to Spain in 2003. He had been given assurances, Beckham said, from the club's board that it would still give him a new deal that would extend beyond his current contract, which runs to the end of next season.

As for Eriksson, he was at his most prickly when asked whether winning the World Cup would be enough to save him his job, pointing out once again that it was the FA who sacked him. "I couldn't possibly change my mind," Eriksson said. "I have just listened to what people told me to do. It doesn't depend on me."

If Ashley Cole fails to salvage his injury-ravaged season, who can take his place at World Cup?

Casualty Cole

OCTOBER 2005 Pulls out of England squad with stress fracture of his right foot, picked up playing against Ajax

JANUARY 2006 Injures thigh on Arsenal return in 7-0 win over Middlesbrough

FEBRUARY 2006 Sprains his left ankle in the seventh minute of game against Tottenham reserves

Replacements

WAYNE BRIDGE (Fulham, Age 26 , Caps 21)

Back playing again after his inactivity at Chelsea and in pole position to replace Cole

JAMIE CARRAGHER (Liverpool, Age 28, Caps 22)

So versatile, and so solid, that Sven Goran Eriksson might be tempted to play him on the left

KIERAN RICHARDSON (Man Utd, Age 22, Caps 4)

Although happiest in midfield, he has gained experience at left-back with United this season

PAUL KONCHESKY (West Ham, Age 25, Caps 2)

Impressive in the Premiership but dropped from England squad after struggling against Argentina

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