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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
The Fabio Capello roadshow rolls into Minsk tonight with England endeavouring to make it four from four in Belarus. Few could have foreseen such a confident start to the World Cup qualifying campaign but, despite the promising progress, question marks still remain.

Firstly there is the tiresome debate over the virtues of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, a subject that seems more ubiquitous these days than the credit crunch and just as difficult to solve. The presence of two excellent, but similar, players incapable of working in tandem, surely calls for the simplest solution. Keep one, drop one.

Rumours on Monday suggested that Gerrard would be the one to make way, but the FA seemed to counter that theory by pushing the Liverpool captain in front of the cameras on Tuesday. Gerrard insisted that he and Lampard could prosper together, but patience is wearing thin amongst the fans. Outside of the Chelsea and Liverpool-supporting partisans, most people couldn't care less which one of them keeps his place. They are both good professionals, hard-working and determined, and they're both capable of changing games with trademark driven shots. Gerrard is the more talented, but Lampard the more disciplined. Whether or not Capello is ready to make such a decision remains a mystery.

England also have renewed injury concerns. John Terry was unable to prove his fitness, which means that Matthew Upson keeps his place after a slightly shaky display at Wembley and Ashley Cole has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Upson, assuming that he can recreate his club form and not attempt to play any more short backpasses to David James, should be trustworthy enough, but the loss of Cole is troubling. English fans may be split over the treatment of Cole at Wembley, but no-one doubts that he is one of the finest full-backs in Europe. Wayne Bridge is simply not in his league.

The response in the UK to the jeering of Cole has been intriguing and, for the most part, entirely unprintable. One of the few repeatable responses to this paper's condemnation of those catcalls was that the fans, "weren't booing Cole because he made a mistake. We were booing him because we hate him. The mistake was merely the trigger."

It is true that Cole has brought the hatred entirely upon himself with the very public betrayal of Arsenal, over an issue of money, and the equally public betrayal of his wife, over an issue of vomit-stained adultery. However, the issue of idiocy still remains. Cole is, to put it mildly, a disagreeable character, but to boo his every touch in a game that was still in the balance is not exactly constructive. No-one is asking for him to be adored, rose-petals scattered in his path, but if the England fans could just silently tolerate him whole he wears the shirt, it would be nice.

Against Kazakhstan, England's lack of a left winger was less of a problem because Cole is so tireless that he could play in two positions at once. Bridge doesn't offer that dimension and Belarus are far better equipped to take advantage of his weaknesses. Victory is never a foregone conclusion on these long trips to Eastern Europe so, if Gerrard and Lampard are ever going to click, tonight would be a good time to do it.