Cool-headed Lampard puts us all at ease

By Martin Samuel

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England's greatest penalty taker. As accolades go, it is not saying much.

A bit like being the most famous Moldovan* or the brains of the latest generation of the Kardashian family. It's all relative.

Yet there is still something to be said for having Frank Lampard march towards goal when the referee has pointed to the spot.

At ease: Frank Lampard is England's most successful penalty taker

At ease: Frank Lampard is England's most successful penalty taker

It is a very comforting watching him clasp the ball between his hands before laying it firmly on the turf. In Frank we trust.

Mostly, anyway. Penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments, it could go either way. Scored in 2004, missed in 2006, did not play in 2012.

A game like this, however, and a penalty for England almost certainly means a goal for Lampard, too.

So it was in Moldova and the weight on English shoulders eased. That is what Lampard does best of all, he releases tension.

England could have been edgy, first game of a World Cup qualifying campaign, away from home in unfamiliar surroundings.

Lampard prevented that angst from surfacing. Once Dutch referee Paulus van Boekel had judged defender Simeon Bulgaru to have handled, few pulses even raced as Lampard stood over the ball.

Unlike goalkeeper Stanislav Namasco, we knew what to expect: the outcome, if not the trajectory.

As it transpired, this one travelled low to the left, just out of Namasco's reach: 1-0 to England, eight successful penalties to Lampard, a cursory celebration and Roy Hodgson's team had taken a first step on a journey they hope will end in Brazil. 

Some would rush Lampard into retirement but we will miss him when he has gone; we will miss that security blanket; we will miss that sense of certainty.

We will miss those goals. He has 25 for England now, which is one more than Sir Geoff Hurst and one fewer than Bryan Robson.

Lampard's reputation is only enhanced by proximity to a player whose contribution from midfield is considered prolific.

Comforting: Lampard is placed 13th in England's list of goalscorers after a brace against Moldova

Comforting: Lampard is placed 13th in England's list of goalscorers after a brace against Moldova

Robson, do not forget, was England's warrior midfielder, too - and he was injured a lot. Captain Marvel, indeed.

Lampard is a marvel, too, in his own way. His scoring efficiency here afforded his team-mates the freedom to attack Moldova and, three goals up after 31 minutes, what could have been a tricky encounter unfolded in the manner of a spirited training exercise.

The survivors of England's only other visit to Moldova, in 1996, the first match of Glenn Hoddle's tenure as national manager, would not have recognised the old place. That was because it had been knocked down.

The crumbling Republican Stadium made it through another 11 years before it was put out of its misery and fixtures moved to the home of Chisinau's biggest team, FC Zimbru 65. 

A zimbru is a particularly large, fighting bull that was once prevalent in Moldova. Like the Republican Stadium, it is now extinct in these parts. Legend has it that zimbru were used to repel the invading Ottomans.

They could have done with some of them in defence on Friday. Or attack. Or ambushing England's players as they left the team hotel. Team sports aren't really Moldova's thing, a nice man called Vitali, from the Department of Sport and High Achievement, explained.

Battered: England hammered Moldova 5-0 on Friday night

Battered: England hammered Moldova 5-0 on Friday night

Wrestling, more recently weightlifting, bit of judo, are the big sports around here. Individual events, said Vitali. Moldova had a women's basketball team that did a bit 20 years ago and a couple of water polo players who held their own during the nation's final fling as part of Russia.

The rest of it was something of a bust. Give a Moldovan a Lycra singlet and he was happy, seemed to be the message. A football, not so much. A betting slip, however, that's a different story.

Stadium Zimbru is decked out in the yellow and green colours of its club proprietors, not the blue of the national team. 

'Like Bet365,' Vitali observed before revealing that many in the country had wagered on his match.

The most popular bets? Moldova not to score but not to lose by three goals or more. It was hardly the most unexpected prediction: the hosts to be defeated while keeping it tighter than last time. They were wrong about that, too.

Applauded: England's players should be praised for making Moldova look as poor as they did

Applauded: England's players should be praised for making Moldova look as poor as they did

In the most impoverished country in Europe, let's hope they were cautious at the counter. So, an emphatic win this may have been, but it would be wrong to call it easy.

England played very well in order to make Moldova appear poor and this was not a game that anyone took lightly, from Hodgson to the Department of Sport and High Achievement or the local police.

There were hundreds of them, thousands maybe taking into account the other uniforms, soldiers and Carabinieri, plus guards at every level of the functional Soviet-style apartment building Dacia that towered over the stadium, its infrastructure worryingly exposed through the bleak concrete facade. 

'Very nice flats,' said Vitali, the property market being relative, too. Much like concepts of success in a tie such as this.

Some argue England should go to Chisinau and destroy the makeweights of Moldova; others that the days of proud supremacy are gone and a win of any kind is acceptable.

Tougher tests ahead: ENgland will face off against Ukraine on Tuesday

Tougher tests ahead: ENgland will face off against Ukraine on Tuesday

The truth is probably in between. Of course, the result trumps all; but it was equally important for Hodgson's team to play as well as they did, to build confidence with sterner tests ahead, starting against Ukraine on Tuesday.

Like being English football's greatest penalty taker, or getting on the cover of Moldova's equivalent of House and Home, it's all relative here, too.

*Probably Anton Rubinstein, the Russian composer and one of the great piano virtuosos of the 19th century, who, as founder of the St Petersburg Conservatory was composition tutor to Tchaikovsky (although he was born in Transnistria, which wasn't actually Moldova at the time.

 


 

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

Super. Frank. Lampard. Legend.

Click to rate     Rating   46

England win their first world cup qualifier, Wales have egg all over their faces after losing their opener, and after all their crowing off in Team GB! How funny!

Click to rate     Rating   9

Its all very well one man scoring a penalty against Moldova... that isn't England's problem. If we had five players who could score in a penalty shoot out.

Click to rate     Rating   17

Why do we continue to play Gerrard and Lampard... They've never played well for England. Especially Frank Lampard. Move on. Play different players and see if it works because it doesn't work when Lampard and Gerrard play together. Unfortunate that Scholes retired so early because there wouldn't be a debate over Lampard and Gerrard not playing well for England.

Click to rate     Rating   44

Love Lampard, but his penalties have always been predictable as I'm sure most Chelsea fans will tell you. Always to the left (notice how 90% of goalkeepers dive the right way) or down the middle. Fortunately he hits the ball with such power that they are virtually impossible to save unless a keeper risks diving too early.

Click to rate     Rating   21

I really get fed up with all the negativity surrounding Lampard, so a very nice article Martin :). He was the midfield maestro that guided Chelsea to three premier leagues, a few FA Cups and he played awesomely against Barca (remember his two passes to Ramires) and Bayern Munich to help win the CL. Yes he hasn't played as well for England as he has for his club but how many players in the last ten years can we actually say have done? I can't think of any. When Frank's time does come I for one will be very very sad. (P.s. Frank, you need to vary your penalties, don't keep going for bottom left corner!)

Click to rate     Rating   33

I thought Gerrard and Lampard played very well,Steven seems to have a sense of freedom when not playing in a Liverpool shirt,perhaps the responsibility of expectation at his home town club is getting a bit too much for him. Steven needs to finish his career playing for a club he is not expected to rescue every week and be rested from time to time.If he spent his final few years at a club like City or Chelsea he would not only achieve the League winners medal he so desperately craves, he might also be given the perfect window for and end of career opportunity to display his remarkable football talent in a less pressurised environment.

Click to rate     Rating   16

Good side Moldova (please read with sarcasm!!) How come we suddenly forget how bad we are only weeks after embarrassment at the Euros?!?!

Click to rate     Rating   6

To be frank this is an impressive and long overdue tribute to someone who is so reliable when literally put on the spot. I can't help feeling though that his greatest pressure penalty to date was the one he buried in the Champions League Final against Bayern. He looked as cool as a cucumber as he approached the task. But with the shoot out score reading 3-1 to the Germans, a miss would almost certainly have meant defeat and the end of his personal dream to win a CL medal. He chose to blast it and in truth it probably wasn't one of his best efforts but it settled the nerves. The rest is history. You need to have courage to step up to the mark. Thanks for your efforts to date Frank from the Three Lions and the Blues.

Click to rate     Rating   31

Frank is goig to take some replacing for England and Chelsea , When Frank time come's to a end. He is one of the coolest penalty takers , always looks after himself and is reliable, Well done Frank !

Click to rate     Rating   112

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