Sven Goran Eriksson called up Rio Ferdinand into his England squad last night despite doubts over his fitness, but accepted that Paul Scholes will have to miss the Euro 2004 qualifiers against Macedonia and Liechtenstein.
Scholes has been ruled out of club matches for about a month by the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, due to a hernia problem which could even make him doubtful for England's final group game in Turkey on 11 October.
Ferdinand also missed United's 1-0 defeat at Southampton yesterday because of a kidney complaint and is due to see a specialist on Wednesday. But Eriksson is confident he will recover in time to face Macedonia next Saturday and so called him into a 24-man squad, in which Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney and Ian Walker were all recalled.
Jonathan Woodgate and Darius Vassell are both ruled out through injury, but there is still no place for Gareth Southgate, while the goalkeeper Chris Kirkland drops down to play in the Under-21 side.
Scholes' absence will be keenly felt by Eriksson, who has retained faith in the attacking midfielder even though he has not scored for his country in over two years. Scholes has started in all but two of the 30 England games under Eriksson, the most recent of which was was the friendly against Portugal last September.
On that occasion, he was left out of the squad only for Ferguson to pick him for Manchester United against Middlesbrough, leading to the England coach instituting a system under which he routinely called up any players with minor injury doubts.
However, after talks with United's medical staff at the weekend, Eriksson accepted that Scholes' injury was serious enough to warrant complete rest in the hope that he could recover in time to face Turkey.
Ferguson said: "Paul Scholes is out for a month. A specialist will look at him because he's had two hernias already. This is a third and may take longer to heal. Rio Ferdinand will see the doctor on Wednesday and so we don't know about him."
Eriksson remains confident enough that Ferdinand will recover in time to leave out Southgate and Matthew Upson, even though Woodgate is injured.
Owen Hargreaves, who pulled out of the last England squad due to a groin problem, and Nicky Butt, who injured his ankle against Croatia but returned to action as a substitute for United against Southampton, will also be assessed.
Rooney's return is especially welcome to boost England's attacking options. Eriksson, when asked at the weekend whether he would have any worries about selecting Rooney from the start for the game in Macedonia, replied: "No, we showed that against Turkey. Rooney was much better physically against Charlton than when I saw him against Arsenal. That was very positive."
The options for Scholes' replacement in the starting line-up appear to be a straight contest between Kieron Dyer and Frank Lampard, although Joe Cole has also been picked.
"The practices we have before the Macedonia game will decide that," Eriksson said. "I'm not sure yet. We have Dyer, he might be one, and Lampard, he might be another one. It's not easy to find another Paul Scholes if you want to find exactly those qualities. There is not a second Paul Scholes in England. We will have to work and see what suits us best."
In defence, Gary and Phil Neville will contest the right-back spot along with Danny Mills, who has kept his place in the squad. Hargreaves is another contender, although he could also be considered for the holding midfield role if Butt is not deemed match-fit.
Eriksson, who did not recall David Seaman in goal but replaced Kirkland with Walker in order to strengthen the Under-21 side, is expecting a tough encounter in Skopje. "I know for sure it's going to be a very difficult game. They did very well against us when we drew in Southampton last October," he said.
"We should have won it as we had the chances, but that's football. It will be extremely important for us. If we want to go to Turkey needing a draw, then six points would be fantastic. Anything else could make life quite different," the England coach added.
Gareth Barry is poised to become the England Under-21s' most capped player after being named in the squad for the European Championship qualifiers with Macedonia and Portugal. The record-holder is Liverpool's Jamie Carragher with 26 appearances, but Barry is only one behind and will overtake him if he features in both matches.
ENGLAND UNDER-21 SQUAD TO FACE MACEDONIA AND PORTUGAL: Grant (Derby), Evans (Swindon), Kirkland (Liverpool); Clarke (Everton), Dawson (Notts Forest), Hibbert (Everton), Jagielka (Sheffield United), Konchesky (Charlton), Johnson (Chelsea); Wright-Phillips (Manchester City), Prutton (Southampton), Pennant (Arsenal), Jenas (Newcastle), Barton (Manchester City), Barry (Aston Villa), Tonge (Sheffield United), Etherington (Tottenham), Sidwell (Reading); Ameobi (Newcastle), C Cole (Chelsea), Defoe (West Ham), Jeffers (Arsenal), Zamora (Tottenham).
ENGLAND SQUAD (for Euro 2004 qualifiers v Macedonia and Liechtenstein)
James (West Ham), Robinson (Leeds United), Walker (Leicester).
P Neville (Manchester United), G Neville (Manchester United), Cole (Arsenal), Bridge (Chelsea), Mills (Middlesbrough), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Campbell (Arsenal), Terry (Chelsea).
Beckham (Real Madrid, Sp), Lampard (Chelsea), J Cole (Chelsea), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich, Ger), Butt (Manchester United), Dyer (Newcastle United), Murphy (Liverpool), Gerrard (Liverpool), Sinclair (Manchester City).
Owen (Liverpool), Heskey (Liverpool), Beattie (Southampton), Rooney (Everton).