x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lampard deserves last hurrah with England in World Cup qualifier

England veteran should win his 100th cap tonight as the 35 year old targets a swansong in Brazil, writes Richard Jolly.

Frank Lampard himself did not expect to last longer than 20 caps for England but he has grown in his role in the midfield even as age is catching up on him. Glyn Kirk / AFP
Frank Lampard himself did not expect to last longer than 20 caps for England but he has grown in his role in the midfield even as age is catching up on him. Glyn Kirk / AFP

After 920 internationals, spread over 141 years, England are headed for a historic first in Kiev on Monday night.

Should Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard all take the field, it will be the only occasion in their history when they have fielded three players with 100 caps to their name.

It may also, should Ukraine defeat their visitors, be a day when England's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup suffer a blow.

Besides tarnishing a landmark occasion for the deserving Lampard, a setback would be symbolic. Theirs has been an era of personal achievement but collective disappointment.

"I don't think you should write off every England player of the last 47 years as a failure because we've not won anything," Lampard argued.

Nevertheless, as it was when Gerrard and Cole reached their own milestones, praise had to be qualified. Each deserves to be applauded for his longevity but his personal peak has come on the club stage.

In that respect, perhaps they are personified by Lampard.

Besides winning every major trophy available, he has contributed 205 goals to the Chelsea cause but his quest for one in a World Cup continues.

In 2006, he arrived as officially the planet's second best footballer and departed having directed efforts across Germany without finding the net, even in a penalty shoot-out.

In 2010, infamously, his shot did cross the German line but, in a colossal error of judgement from the officials, no goal was given. But that, it was widely assumed, was that. The end.

Except it was not to be.

Lampard played on. Injury ruled him out of Euro 2012. Once again, he played on. Now, finally, he faces the final curtain.

"Realistically, I think this will be my final year," he said. He turns 36 during next summer's World Cup. It should prove his farewell, the end of his crusade for a World Cup goal. More than most, an extraordinarily efficient player can be judged by goals.

There have been 29 in his 99 caps – among players who were not specialist strikers, only the legendary winger of the 1950s, Tom Finney, with 30, has scored more often for England – and six in his last eight appearances.

It is one indication of the Indian summer to his international career. Indeed, the highs have sandwiched the lows.

While he made his debut in the 20th century, Lampard established himself in the side a decade ago. He was voted England's Player of the Year in both 2004 and 2005.

Then came his twin World Cup disappointments, the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 and the thigh problem that ruled him out of the 2012 tournament.

Rather than marking the start of the rest of his life, the last 13 months have amounted to a redemptive period.

Lampard led England to victory against Italy and scored a winner against Brazil.

As manager Roy Hodgson looked to promote younger talents, he was rebranded as England's impact substitute.

With games growing in importance, however, he was restored to the starting XI for Friday's 4-0 defeat of Moldova.

So it is for the golden generation. England could not win with them and have concluded they cannot win without them. Lampard's England years have been defined by Gerrard and vice versa, the often mismatched pair held up as the epitome of their inability to gel.

The Liverpudlian has been shunted out to either flank to accommodate Lampard before Hodgson made Gerrard his captain and a central figure.

Now there is a belated sense the old-timers are allies.

"We enjoy playing together," said Gerrard. Finally, it looks that way.

They have been aided by Hodgson's decision to field a trio in midfield, allowing the veterans to mentor Jack Wilshere.

The Arsenal midfielder was seven when Lampard first played for England.

Now the older man is set to become the eighth member of the exclusive 100 club, giving him a special place in history. "I'm proud to get near 100 caps," he said. "Because when I began playing I wouldn't have believed I'd get past 20."

Beyond the numbers that tell a tale of exceeding expectations, is the lingering sense that Lampard still has unfinished business in the colours of his country.

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