All-clear for Rio Ferdinand's England comeback

Manchester United defender will join up with England squad despite his manager's concerns

Rio Ferdinand's participation in England's two forthcoming World Cup qualification matches was confirmed last night, after he unexpectedly made a third successive appearance for Manchester United in the win over Reading at Old Trafford.

The 34-year-old centre-half had been recalled after an absence of almost two years for the away games against San Marino on Friday and Montenegro next Tuesday, only for Sir Alex Ferguson to cast doubts on his participation because of fitness concerns.

However, when asked if Ferdinand would join up with the England squad tomorrow, United's manager last night answered with an emphatic "yes".

The player has developed a special routine of rest and preparation between matches, which his club were worried would be interrupted by 10 days away. United then face two games in 48 hours, against Sunderland on Saturday week and in the FA Cup quarter-final replay at Chelsea on Easter Monday.

England's head coach Roy Hodgson has spoken to Ferguson but refused to divulge what was said or whether there was any agreement that Ferdinand would not be used in both matches. He did, however, offer public reassurance that the player would be carefully looked after: "I regard myself as a sort of custodian of these players, they belong to the clubs, they are contracted to the clubs, that's where they earn their money.

"When they come to us we make certain we look after them properly and hopefully send them back in a good condition. Whenever players come to join us we always research what their routines are with their club sides, what they are used to doing two days after a match, for example, or the day before a game and to some extent we take that into account in our programme. Our medical people are in constant contact with the medical people and the sports-science people at all the clubs so we have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done."

Hodgson has always been keen to avoid any conflict with United, since they supply so many England players – seven out of the 26 named last Thursday. Ferguson has already made a point of protesting – unfairly the Football Association say – about how much commercial and media work Wayne Rooney does while on international duty.

As England's previous three internationals against San Marino have brought 6-0, 7-1 and 5-0 wins, Friday's visit there should hardly be a cause for any great concern, whoever plays. The aim will be to maximise goal difference and prepare for the more demanding assignment in Montenegro four days later, where it will be necessary to improve on the performances and results from 1-1 draws against Ukraine (at Wembley) and Poland (away) that are currently keeping England two points behind Montenegro at the top of the table.

"To be frank, I don't fear the game in the sense that we could lose it," Hodgson said of Friday's encounter at the 7,000-capacity Stadio Olimpico in Serravalle.

"I'm confident with the players we have we can go out and win the game. But it is important with the players that they get their heads on and first of all win that one and then we'll confront the next one."

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