England lifted as Ferdinand's injury fears ease

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The Independent Online

Rio Ferdinand has been placed in the care of England's medical staff as fears that the defender would miss the Euro 2008 double-header against Andorra and Macedonia subsided.

After the furore that accompanied the handling of Wayne Rooney's broken metatarsal in the lead-up to the World Cup finals this summer, Manchester United appear to have entered the Steve McClaren era with a new air of compliance. Old Trafford officials confirmed yesterday that scans offered no conclusive proof that Ferdinand had suffered a broken toe at Watford on Saturday and, after further tests, were sufficiently happy about Ferdinand's health to allow him to join the England squad tomorrow to prepare for McClaren's first competitive game in charge of the national side.

It is still possible that the 28-year-old Ferdinand may not feature against Andorra at Old Trafford on Saturday, particularly as the far more arduous encounter with Macedonia in Skopje follows four days later.

But the defender's presence with the England camp this week proves that McClaren's attempts to foster better relations with the leading Premiership clubs are bearing fruit.

McClaren has emphasised the difficulty Joe Cole may have in forcing his way back into the England starting line-up by hailing the contribution of his replacement, Stewart Downing.

Having worked at Middlesbrough with the young winger, who is the subject of a big-money bid by Tottenham, McClaren knows all about his abilities. The England manager was effusive about Downing's ability to hold his position on the left in the recent friendly win over Greece, something with which the right-footed Cole is not entirely comfortable.

"Stewart is a left-sider, and, like any wide player, he holds the position and gives other players room," McClaren said. "There was a degree of maturity about his performances at the World Cup and that became even more evident against Greece, when he gave us really good balance."

McClaren highlighted Frank Lampard's first-half strike against the European champions at Old Trafford as proof of how important Downing's contribution was. The winger was a major influence on most of England's best moves against Greece, although on that occasion he influenced proceedings without actually touching the ball.

"By staying out wide, you create a channel for other players to run into," he said. "It's like a lane; if it's blocked up and people are in it, you do not make the run. Frank spotted the lane was free, as he did on a few other occasions, and that was why he scored his goal."

* The Everton defender David Weir is set to captain Scotland in their European Championship qualifiers against the Faroe Islands and Lithuania. The 36-year-old led Walter Smith's team to Kirin Cup success in Japan in May after replacing the injured Barry Ferguson, who had undergone knee surgery. Now, with the Rangers midfielder ruled out through a heel injury since the start of the season, Weir will be called upon to lead the team against the Faroes at Celtic Park on Saturday before the trip to Kaunas next week. Smith said: "David captained the team in Japan and is more than likely to do the same against the Faroes and Lithuania."

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