James Lawton: Lampard shines out of a dulled diamond

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The Independent Online

Sven Goran Eriksson's diamond, about which we have recently been hearing more than we used to be told of the one Richard Burton bought Liz Taylor, was not exactly dazzling here last night. Midfielders like Nobby Stiles and Alan Ball didn't need a diagram to explain where they should be on the field.

Sven Goran Eriksson's diamond, about which we have recently been hearing more than we used to be told of the one Richard Burton bought Liz Taylor, was not exactly dazzling here last night. Midfielders like Nobby Stiles and Alan Ball didn't need a diagram to explain where they should be on the field.

Indeed, from Frank Lampard's position at the bottom of it, the big fear must have been of being showered with broken glass.

Lampard survived the confusion, partly created by his instinctive belief that when opportunities present themselves sound-minded young footballers should be free to pursue them, mostly because he is a supremely confident young footballer. How this self-belief will survive exposure to a combination of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira when the serious action begins in Lisbon in 10 days time is now a big question. Unfortunately, it is plainly one of many facing Eriksson.

Not the least of them of is when David Beckham is going to unfold the skills which he was apparently learning at the knee of Zidane in Madrid, when the rest of us thought the French maestro was more concerned with finding someone who might just be interested in receiving a simple pass. The disturbing truth was that for most of this so-called grooming exercise the England captain looked as irrelevant in his old stronghold as he did for the second half of his first season in the Spanish capital.

Beckham did move inside in the second half, after the Japanese had touched embarrassing levels of coherence and scored a goal of such sweetness Eriksson could only sigh, and linked quite promisingly with his old United collaborator Paul Scholes, but there was disappointingly slight evidence that he is a man who has put his Spanish trial firmly behind him.

Indeed, the overall effect of Eriksson playing a proper match outside of a competitive situation right up to the 77th minute was not uplifting. When a touch of the old chorus line formula was revived we could at least lapse back into the comfortable presumption that really the coach does have a clear idea of what he will do in Portugal.

But the truth was that everything we had seen earlier worked against that idea. The sense that Nicky Butt was a challenger for a starting role, despite the barrenness of his season with Manchester United was dismaying enough. But that was compounded by the lack of clarity in the thinking of an England midfield redeemed only by the usual ferocity of Steven Gerrard's will and the fact that Lampard is a player of genuinely progressive instincts.

Against the sophistication of the French, and other contenders, this was perhaps not an overwhelming message of hope. Of course with players like Gerrard, Michael Owen and Scholes, there is always the possibility of English redemption.

Wayne Rooney too showed some moments of familiar preococity. However, along with that talent there are still too many moments of troubling immaturity. His angry reaction to the attentions of Shinji Ono just before half time might in different, more weighty circumstances, have led to his dismissal.

Perhaps most discouraging is the sense that England still look like a team in the making. But then how could it be otherwise. England do not have preparation. They have reputations which are thinly examined in the walk-on parts that are invariably handed out in the build-up to a major tournament. So it was against a Japanese side which showed far more inherent understanding of each other's intentions.

Beckham, if he survives the trauma of the collision with a Japanese defender which left him with a leg wrapped in towels, has one more game to raise the flag for England.

His boss, Eriksson, always tells us that it will be right on the night, but here in Manchester the evidence was less than thrilling.

Frank Lampard had a decent game. Certainly he outshone the diamond.

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