The Moscow weather that greeted the England team as they landed last night was bleak indeed – snow, sleet and temperatures touching freezing. A scene to match Frank Lampard's mood it would seem after the Chelsea midfielder was given the strongest signal yet by Steve McClaren that he would be sitting out a second consecutive England international.
During England's 90-minute session at Altrincham's Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College yesterday, Lampard was not among the first XI formation – set up as 4-4-2 on the 'Fieldturf' pitch that is identical to the artificial surface they will play on at the Luzhniki stadium tomorrow. It was the strongest indication McClaren will stick with the pairing of Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry in the crunch match of England's Euro 2008 qualification campaign.
The England manager's tinkering at the end of Saturday's win over Estonia suggested that a 4-3-3 formation including Lampard – and without either Shaun Wright-Phillips or Joe Cole – was on the cards for tomorrow. However, in what was the last training session England had on home soil, Lampard was left out and Joleon Lescott was also preferred as Ashley Cole's replacement at left-back – another surprise decision.
While Lampard was left to contemplate his England demotion, his Chelsea team-mate John Terry was playing through the pain barrier. He played alongside Rio Ferdinand in the warm-up session in Altrincham and was later on the England flight for Moscow. Terry was still unable to train on his left knee on Sunday and it is clear he is playing through the pain to serve his country's need.
Admirable indeed but the swelling and discomfort from the floating piece of debris within his knee has still not dissipated. There are fears at Terry's club, Chelsea, that their captain is nowhere near complete fitness but nobody is in the mood to stop him playing for England. Having signalled his intention to McClaren that he wants to play it is by no means certain that Terry will come through this evening's training session at the Luzhniki stadium.
The comparisons between tomorrow's game and the Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey in Istanbul on 11 October, 2003 are obvious. A big match against hostile opposition – crowd trouble had marred England's 2-0 win in Sunderland six months earlier – and the imperative of getting a draw at the very least to smooth passage to the next summer's European Championship.
At the Sukru Saracoglu stadium that night, England fans were banned and for once this was one game that the hardcore support stayed away from. Not only was the atmosphere unsettling that night, the mood in the England dressing room was not much better.
Mutiny was in the air after the Football Association messed up the process around Ferdinand's missed drugs test and inadvertently signalled to the press – he was not named in the squad – something was up.
With the threat of a strike, and anger among players towards then FA chief executive Mark Palios, Ferdinand was left behind in Manchester texting good luck messages to his team-mates and telling them not to strike on his behalf. The resultant fall-out saw him hit with an eight-month ban which included Euro 2004. Having been dropped by Kevin Keegan from the Euro 2000 squad, Ferdinand is in the unusual position of having played at three World Cup finals and no European Championships. All the more reason that England tie up qualification with a win over Russia tomorrow according to Ferdinand, who said that a European Championship was "something I'd like to tick off on my 'to-do' list." He added: "But with this one hopefully I can go one better than the World Cups and win it."
The artificial pitch at the Luzhniki will not, the England team do not tire of saying, be a factor in tomorrow's game, a mantra that McClaren has evidently drilled into them all last week. Ferdinand was no different, saying that although he expected Russia to be a different prospect to the team beaten 3-0 at Wembley last month, England were still good enough to win in Moscow.
"The consistency is creeping back," he said. "We've still got much to do. The game in Russia is going to be very important and to win that we've got to apply ourselves right, take all the negatives out of the environment we are going into over there with the pitch. We have to completely wipe that out of our minds. If we dwell on that, then we've lost before we even go out there.
"If you sit and think about it [the surface] too much, we are going to be feeling negative before the first whistle goes. We have trained on an artificial pitch this week at times already so we know what it is about."
With Lescott potentially playing at left-back, having made his England debut on Saturday, there is little more experience at right-back where Micah Richards has earned a modest eight caps. Yet confidence is not a problem for the 19-year-old who yesterday allowed himself to imagine a future as the England captain.
"I can't lie, I do sometimes look back and think how far I have come in a short space of time," Richards said. "But I look forward a lot more often. I am 19 and have won eight caps. In two more years I hope to have 30 or 40. I also look at how John Terry handles himself. He is a total leader. He has all these injuries, yet he still wants to play.
He added: "I am trying to put what he has got into my game. I am a passionate sort of player and I enjoy the responsibility of leadership. I know that being captain of England is a long way off for me, but it is something I would like to do in the years ahead."