Lampard places faith in growing self-belief

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The Independent Football

Belief is a rare commodity in football. Plenty claim to have it, but when it comes to it, those that talk the talk usually find themselves outdone by those that just get on with the job of winning. England know that feeling all too well having had their high hopes on the biggest stage crushed more times than many care to remember.

Belief is a rare commodity in football. Plenty claim to have it, but when it comes to it, those that talk the talk usually find themselves outdone by those that just get on with the job of winning. England know that feeling all too well having had their high hopes on the biggest stage crushed more times than many care to remember.

At Euro '96, France '98, Euro 2000, Japan/Korea 2002, Portugal 2004 ... England have promised much in each of those tournaments, but the wait goes on. And for the majority of the players who will face Northern Ireland at Old Trafford this afternoon, the pain of failure at international level is becoming a recurring theme.

Gary Neville, David Beckham and Michael Owen, not to mention Rio Ferdinand and the injured Sol Campbell, have been around long enough now to know that success in the international arena is a fiendishly difficult proposition.

There is a growing acceptance within Sven Goran Eriksson's squad that the time has come to deliver, that this "golden generation" of promise must reach fulfilment. Nobody with England has any desire to suffer the same fate as Portugal's supposed dream team. Their 1991 World Youth Cup winners of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Fernando Couto promised the world and failed to deliver and Frank Lampard, England's midfielder, admits that Eriksson's players are determined to live up to expectations.

"We're aware that people are expecting this generation to produce, but more important is the fact that, as players, we are putting ourselves under pressure to deliver," Lampard admits. "It won't be for the want of trying if we don't succeed.

"We have good players, good talent throughout the squad and we want to do well. What more can be said than that? Winning something is the next step. We haven't done that with England yet and we are all ambitious individuals.

"I know how the buzz feels when you do well in a competition and how horrible it is when you go out, so I want to go and win something with England. The disappointment of last summer in Portugal, when we went out on penalties against the Portuguese, drives us on."

Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan ought to be swept aside without too much discomfort between now and Wednesday evening but a mere two major semi-finals since 1966 tells its own story.

"It's not easy for England," Lampard claims. "We only have tournaments every two years, if we qualify, and there are a lot of big teams out there. But there is a belief within the England squad that we can go on and win things and that's what we are looking to do with the next World Cup."

Lampard and his Chelsea team-mates Joe Cole and John Terry can bring the ultimate self-belief to England that has been instilled in them by Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge this season. "He [Mourinho] has done a lot for us," said Lampard. "One of his most important things is man-management, and he works on you not only as a player but also as a person and that helps you.

"I think he is helping the England team and English football. From the moment you meet Mourinho, it's obvious that he has belief in himself. You can't help but have that rub off on you when you work with him day in and day out."

Northern Ireland, ranked at 111th in the world, is the immediate priority for England, however, and Lampard expects a stiff challenge.

Lampard said: "It's not easy just to go out and beat teams. We might be over 100 places above Northern Ireland in the rankings and have millions of pounds more talent on paper, but they won't let us walk all over them. We have to be at our best to win the game."

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