Limping Lampard in race to be fit for Portugal

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The Independent Football

England suffered a major injury scare on the eve of their defining World Cup quarter-final yesterday when Frank Lampard limped out of training with an ankle problem that has put his place against Portugal in doubt.

The 28-year-old is in a race against time to face Luiz Felipe Scolari's side after sustaining a blow to his ankle during the final training session at the squad's base in the Black Forest before heading for Gelsenkirchen this morning. Lampard required intensive treatment at the team's Schlosshotel Buhlerhohe and his place in the quarter-final, and Sven Goran Eriksson's preferred five-man midfield, will depend on his reaction to further attention from the England medical staff today.

The Chelsea midfielder has endured a difficult World Cup campaign so far but his absence would represent a severe setback to Eriksson, who has already lost the goal threat of Michael Owen to a cruciate injury and will employ two players against Portugal, Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville, who are still working their way back towards full fitness after recent injury problems.

Lampard, however, is understood to have informed his England team-mates that he expects to be declared fit in time for the quarter-final and although Eriksson does have alternatives available in Michael Carrick or Peter Crouch, should he decide to revert to a 4-4-2 system, the Swede will see an entire week's preparation on the training ground ruined should the Chelsea midfielder's confidence prove misplaced.

Neville is expected to return at right-back in Gelsenkirchen with Owen Hargreaves in the midfield holding role once again. Last night, Neville delivered a furious response to a broadside from Fifa president Sepp Blatter over England's style of play in Germany.

The siege mentality that Eriksson has actively encouraged this week was reinforced when Blatter added his voice to criticism of England's performances. Blatter accused Eriksson's team of lacking adventure in their last-16 game against Ecuador and, though few among the England squad claim to have delivered to their potential in this tournament, there was disquiet among the Football Association and outright anger among the players at the lack of impartiality from the sport's leading bureaucrat.

Blatter told the German newspaper Tagesspiegel: "I am happy that play is very offensive. The only exception is England, who fielded just one striker in their second-round match. That is not the kind of offensive football you would expect from a title contender."

Predictably it was Neville, the unofficial spokesman for the England squad, who led the retort. "I don't listen to Sepp Blatter and I don't want to listen," said the 31-year-old. "I've got a World Cup quarter-final to prepare for and so have 21 other players. I don't want to hear negative things, people talking about how bad we are. Your frame of mind as a footballer playing for England has to be positive."

England have adopted the Millwall mantra of "No one likes us, we don't care" since Eriksson declared he would gladly sacrifice good football for the World Cup, and Neville insisted that judgement should be reserved until after the quarter-final. He added: "We've done enough to be in a World Cup quarter-final. We have an opportunity on Saturday to play against an excellent Portugal team. It's a step up in class. It is probably something that will suit us because we've played against four teams so far who have been content in stifling our play and we've found it difficult.

"Portugal will allow us more space on the ball and will allow our players, who we know are players of European and world calibre, to produce their magic for us. We can be judged after Saturday."

Neville's reunion with David Beckham on England's right flank is seen as pivotal to the performance of the team, and while the Real Madrid midfielder also condemned Blatter's comments, he conceded that the criticism could be silenced once and for all with a positive display in the AufSchalke Arena.

"We don't really care as a team or maybe even as a nation what people say about the team, because there have been better performances from better teams, or other teams, in this competition and they're out," said Beckham. "Everyone has got their opinion, but it's all about winning games and we will do it our way. We know we haven't played as well as we can, I'm fed up saying it, but only us as players and as a team can put that right."

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