Contrite Ferdinand regains air of authority

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The Independent Football

Come back, Rio, all is forgiven. If it wasn't before kick-off in Geneva, then it should have been by the end of England's remarkable 3-2 victory over Argentina. Sven Goran Eriksson could afford a smile at how both the rehabilitated and, no doubt, contrite Ferdinand played at the heart of England's defence and how the underprepared Wayne Bridge coped on the left.

Speaking on Radio Five Live, Graham Taylor, the former England manager, praised Eriksson's commitment to consistency in his England selections but said he admired the Swedish coach's handling of Ferdinand. "I think that leaving him out against Austria and then bringing him back here is a shrewd move." The implication was that the Manchester United defender needed a reminder that he constantly had to earn his place and not take it for granted.

Ferdinand had begun to let his easy, controlled manner on the ball drift into a casual approach verging on sloppiness but that had all gone as he faced up to one of the most challenging tests he can expect to face.

Argentina are quick, mobile and imaginative in their attacking, meaning that the whole back four had to be on red alert, with Ledley King in front of them finding the effervescent Juan Riquelme, Carlos Tevez, Maxi Rodriguez and Esteban Cambiasso buzzing around behind the striker Hernan Crespo in his space.

For the most part Ferdinand was in control. He made a number of telling interventions in the early stages, making an important challenge on Tevez and blocking a follow-up shot from the adventurous Juan Pablo Sorin.

His only signs of weakness came on crosses when he was twice caught out. After 12 minutes he failed to deal with Riquelme's clever free-kick from the right, letting Crespo bundle the ball home. To the relief of Ferdinand and his team-mates the effort was ruled out for pushing.

Then 20 minutes later his was the last of a series of clumsy attempted interventions by England players as Argentina swept the ball from their own half down field across to the right and then back in for Crespo to give Argentina the lead. Then for the second goal it could be argued that he did not marshal the defence well enough, as Walter Samuel rose unchallenged at the far post to head Argentina into a 2-1 lead.

The first Argentina goal also exposed the shortcomings of Bridge, whose months of inactivity were apparent as Rodriguez went past him to provide the telling cross. The Chelsea full-back, who had only one hour's play under his belt this season going into the match, predictably put in a curate's egg of a performance before being replaced at half-time by Paul Konchesky. Bridge showed both his international experience and his physical weakness.

What was impressive, though, was his willingness to make runs forward down the left-hand side and save Steven Gerrard some of the job of providing width on that flank. It came as no surprise when he did not appear for the second half, but he had by that stage shown that he remains a viable alternative at left-back if Ashley Cole is not available.

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