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The Toe Poke
By ESPN Staff

Lampard: Dutch will test England's progress

Frank Lampard is confident England's travelling army will see a more effective performance from their team in Holland this week than they got last February against Spain.

The Three Lions have suffered just two defeats during Fabio Capello's reign, the one in Seville being the latest as Andres Iniesta and Xavi weaved pretty patterns around the English midfield during a comprehensive win for the Euro 2008 winners.

Capello insisted immediately afterwards that England would benefit from the experience and would love to take on Spain again in next year's World Cup final in Johannesburg.

It is a sentiment Lampard shares, which is why he is eager to tackle the Dutch in Amsterdam on Wednesday to prove that progress is being made.

"When we played in Spain it was tough," he said. "But that was good for us. When we lost, it dampened down expectations a bit. There is nothing wrong with that. It needed to be done.

"It showed that while we had been performing well there was still further to go. It was a little reminder of where we want to go and I think we have improved from that experience. Hopefully we will continue to improve until the World Cup."

When the game was arranged, it was as a warm-up for next month's encounter with Croatia at Wembley, which was supposed to be pivotal in England's attempts to reach South Africa.

Instead, it has turned into a meeting between the first European side to book their place in the final 32 and one on the verge of qualification given victory over the Croatians will take England through with two games to spare after they started their campaign with a record seven successive wins.

Of the men who have been the backbone of England's challenge so far, David James and Peter Crouch will be the main ones missing from duty this week.

James is not 100% fit after a recent knee injury, nevertheless, Robert Green and Ben Foster in particular will be eager to lay down an early marker in their personal duel with the 39-year-old.

Michael Owen's absence has created the biggest stir but clearly England's fourth highest goalscorer has more to do in order to impress the Italian than bag a few goals against weak opposition from Asia.

Capello will almost certainly name the strongest side available to him against a Holland outfit looking to show they have not reached South Africa purely because of their position in what appears to be the weakest group out of the UEFA nations.

"It is going to be hard," said Lampard. "They have obviously qualified because they are a good team and are playing well.

"It will be interesting to play against a team who are going to the World Cup as one of the favourites and who play very good football."


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