Ferdinand expected to rejoin Terry at heart of England defence

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The Independent Online

Rio Ferdinand's fitness will be tested in an England training session this morning before the squad fly to Macedonia today for their second Euro 2008 qualifier and the Manchester United defender is expected to be passed fit to join the squad.

Ferdinand bruised a toe against Watford on 26 August, but early fears that the 27-year-old had broken a metatarsal were unfounded and he should be fit to take his place alongside John Terry in the centre of England's defence in Skopje on Wednesday. Macedonia have also won their first qualifying match, a 1-0 away victory in Estonia.

The last time England played Macedonia in Skopje, three years exactly to the day they play this week, English fans were asked not to travel by the Football Association over fears that more crowd trouble - following a home game against Turkey in Sunderland - could see the side ejected from Euro 2004 qualifying. Tickets were readily available on the black market, however, and around 300 supporters made the trip.

Macedonia had already drawn 2-2 with England in October 2002 when they were beaten 2-1 by Sven Goran Eriksson's team that day in Skopje with Wayne Rooney's first international goal and a David Beckham penalty. Although Macedonia suffered the ignominy of losing to Andorra in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers they have drawn twice with the Netherlands.

Steve McClaren, the England manager, said: "We have come across Macedonia before and we know that it will be a tough game in Skopje, but my belief is that it will be down to us not the opposition. People are certainly not getting carried away just yet, but I think the optimism is there once again, both from the people within the game and from the public."

The attitude from the Macedonian public should also be more positive than three years ago when they welcomed England by setting fire to English flags because of unhappiness at perceived insults in English newspapers.

Their new coach is Srecko Katenec, who led Slovenia to Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, and has beaten Ecuador and Turkey with Macedonia.

Artim Sakiri, 32, the Macedonian, who scored direct from a corner to end David Seaman's international career in the 2002 draw in Southampton, is still playing international football.

The midfielder played two seasons at West Bromwich Albion, but was looking for a new club this summer after being released by Aalborg in Denmark.

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