Frank Lampard believes England have improved as a team since losing to Croatia in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying two years ago. The two sides will again do battle in a 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier at Wembley on Wednesday, with the Three Lions guaranteed to book their place in next summer's finals if they pick up all three points.
Lampard admitted it took him a long time to recover from the agony of that night to forget 20 months ago, but he thinks England are now heading in the right direction under Fabio Capello. "You would have to be a fool not to see how much the team has gone on from that point two years ago," he told Press Association Sport.
"That was a low point in all of our careers and in England's recent history. It was a team of very good individuals who were very low on confidence, on that night and also in other parts of the competition at certain times. Now we have got a lot more confidence, we have moved on a great deal as a team, although not as far as we want to go yet.
"It was horrible to go out of a major tournament in front of your own fans. It scars you as a player. We all carried that around for many weeks and it hit us again when you watched in the summer and we were not involved. We want to try and make sure we get through on Wednesday night but, if we don't manage it then, then we have to focus on the next game and try and make sure we achieve it then."
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic has stoked up the pressure ahead of the game by claiming that Capello's side is flawed and missing a certain 'Englishness' in their mentality. But Lampard feels his former West Ham United team-mate is only using such tactics to build up his own team.
"I know Slaven from playing with him a few years back," the Chelsea midfielder explained. "I don't take any real notice of that one way or the other. He is a top man, a real nice fellow, a very gifted manager.
"It is probably a few words to fire up his own team a bit, to get them going. It all adds to the spice of a big game. Personally I think it is good because it builds up the tension before the game. I could understand what he says about his own team preferring to play away because a lot of teams find it easier to play on the counter-attack."
Lampard has played down the significance of England making occasional defensive errors in the recent friendly internationals with the Netherlands and Slovenia. "If you look at our qualification campaign, I think in general the defending has been excellent and we have conceded very few goals," he said.
"Maybe in a couple of the friendlies there have been a couple of things we would not have wanted to happen which were individual errors but we take that on the chin as a group. We are not the finished article whether it is defensively or attack wise, but hopefully we will get it right for when it really matters."
Lampard also leapt to the defence of his former Chelsea team-mate Glen Johnson, who was partly responsible for Slovenia's goal at the weekend, and insisted he has added an extra dimension to England's game. "I think he is a fantastic right-back and his club form over the last 18 months has been superb," said Lampard.
"Sometimes when you play for England, the players will come under scrutiny but he has given us an extra dimension on the right. He is a great player."