Belfast Telegraph

Ferdinand hopeful of winning fitness battle for crucial Croatia match

Rio Ferdinand is hoping to train with the rest of the England squad today for the first time in almost a week. The 29-year-old defender told Fabio Capello his back and neck feels better after physiotherapy and rehabilitation work in the swimming pool and gym at the team hotel in Barcelona yesterday.

If Ferdinand does not train today – and a final decision will be taken after he is assessed this morning – it is unlikely that he will feature in Wednesday's crucial World Cup qualification fixture away to Croatia. Ferdinand missed Saturday's 2-0 victory away to Andorra which opened England's Group Six campaign, with Joleon Lescott deputising, although it's not certain that in Ferdinand's absence the Everton defender will retain his place against the Croats. Matthew Upson is also in contention.

Capello, who will not want to go into the tie without Ferdinand, is mulling a number of changes for the game and spent last night reviewing a DVD of Croatia's 3-0 victory over Kazakhstan in Zagreb on Saturday before assessing his options. Wes Brown will be in contention to start ahead of Glen Johnson at right-back, for example, while Emile Heskey has probably played himself into the team, with Jermain Defoe likely to miss out.

But those choices along with other decisions – whether to start with Theo Walcott and/or Joe Cole – will not be finalised until Wednesday lunchtime. Capello will monitor his squad until then, although there are no injury concerns from those who featured against the Andorrans.

Capello is acutely aware that Wayne Rooney is not in the best of form but the Manchester United striker is still regarded as first choice for the team, which may be re-shaped against Croatia. It is unlikely, for example, that England will play with two wingers, especially after Stewart Downing's poor showing. Capello had to preach patience to his team at half-time on Saturday and later admitted to being relieved that the tie was over. "It was three points and we move on," said one source when asked to assess the performance. It was pointed out that, also on Saturday, Italy did not score their winning goal in a 2-1 victory away to Cyprus until the 92nd minute.

There was, however, a side swipe from the Andorran coach, David Rodrigo, who mocked Capello by saying: "Mr Capello says he does not understand Andorra's defensive tactics. Well he can try coaching Andorra and I will try coaching England – I am sure we will beat Andorra by more than 2-0."

That may be so but David James voiced the difficulties of playing against a team such as Andorra. "We saw them on video on Friday and they were stuck in one corner of the screen," the goalkeeper – who touched the ball just eight times during the match – said. "They had nine or 10 men behind the ball and they replicated it against us."

But this double-header was always about Croatia and yesterday John Terry admitted there was unfinished business after losing twice to Slaven Bilic's side in the campaign to reach Euro 2008. "I don't want to get across any kind of revenge message but, at the same time, it's a new campaign and we are going there to pick up three points," the England captain said. "We know it's going to be tough again but hopefully they will come at us a bit more than Andorra did. So it will be a different ball game."

It certainly will be that, with Frank Lampard adding of the Croats: "They have got very good players so that presents different problems. It will be a bit more open. They've got a lot more threats in their team, but it might be a bit more enjoyable. Technically they are very good. Everyone was up in arms that they beat us twice but they ended up being the dark horses of the Euros. They aren't to be taken lightly." He can rest assured that no England supporter will be doing that and while Capello has stated he wants three more points, it may be that a single one will be deemed a success.

Belfast Telegraph


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