Frank Lampard has conceded he has entered the final year of an illustrious England career but, as he prepares to become the eighth man to gain 100 caps for his country, is determined to ensure his involvement at this level extends to an appearance at next summer's World Cup finals in Brazil.
The Chelsea midfielder will chalk up his century in pivotal qualifying fixture in Ukraine as Roy Hodgson's side attempt to check their hosts' charge up Group H and retain their place at the top of the section with two fixtures to play. Lampard, who will turn 36 during the tournament, has recognised this as a last opportunity to grace a major finals with England, a reality that will focus his mind before the daunting game at the Olympic stadium.
"Realistically, I think this will be my last year," said the midfielder, who made his debut in 1999. "I would love us to get to Brazil because it would prolong the year, and it would be great for me to go out there. I don't want to say 'I'll retire' because the minute I say that it's there waiting to happen, but younger players are coming through and, at 36, not too many play on at international level.
"But I'd hate to go out in the autumn [should England fail to qualify]. I enjoy being with this group of players and working with the manager, and I have a lot of respect for him. England, as a whole, want to get to the World Cup so I wouldn't want to go out like that. We'll go into the Ukraine game to win it. If we lose it we'd have to remain upbeat for the two home games next month and try to win them. A lot of big teams qualify through the play-offs and then go on to do really well at tournaments. It's not how you get there: it's just the fact of getting there."
Hodgson, whose squad flew to Kiev on Sunday afternoon, is expected to select James Milner on the left of midfield as a replacement for the suspended Danny Welbeck as potentially the only change from the lineup who defeated Moldova 4-0 on Friday. The manager would have been tempted to select Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge for the game, though the striker's inability to recover from a thigh strain leaves Rickie Lambert and Jermain Defoe as the only orthodox strikers in the squad.
Both would ordinarily be behind Welbeck, as well as the injured trio of Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll in Hodgson's pecking order, but Lambert's headed goals in his two caps so far against Scotland and Moldova at least show the Southampton striker is not fazed by international football.
"I'm trying to impress, I'm trying to give him [Hodgson] a different option, and hopefully I've done that," Lambert said. "It's been a hell of a journey and I'm overjoyed with the way it's gone.
"It's going to be completely new to me [playing in Ukraine] but I'm just trying to bring what I can bring to the team and hopefully that can help the team, and help the gaffer. I understand the situation and I've tried to take advantage. I've got another chance to impress again on Tuesday and that's what I'll be trying to do."
After spending all but two seasons of his professional career playing in the lower divisions, Lambert admitted he is still scratching his head – "all the time" – about how a career that has taken him from Blackpool to Macclesfield, Stockport, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before Southampton has now brought him to a potentially decisive fixture in terms of whether England qualify automatically for the World Cup.
"It's all very surreal," he said. "I think it's beyond anyone's imagination what's happening at the minute but I'm trying to stay cool. I'm trying to do what's important and that's trying to do well when the kick-off starts."
England are a point above Ukraine, with two games left for both teams after Tuesday's match. The first of those for England is at Wembley on 11 October against Montenegro, second in Group H, level on points with Hodgson's team but having played a game more. England have another home game against Poland four days later, whereas Ukraine also have to host Poland but finish the group with a match, and the near-formality of a win, in San Marino.