Ferdinand in favour as Eriksson lines up partnership withTerry

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The Independent Football

The Manchester United defender's inauspicious start to the season, which continued in the presence of Eriksson's assistant Tord Grip at Craven Cottage on Saturday, has made him vulnerable to becoming the highest-profile casualty of the Windsor Park débâcle in the penultimate game in Group 6. With Sol Campbell rediscovering his fitness and presence in his past five outings for Arsenal and John Terry confirming at Anfield that he had made a complete recovery from the knee ligament injury that kept him out of the humiliating defeat by Northern Ireland, the options are available to Eriksson to demonstrate that automatic selection to his team is not guaranteed.

However, Ferdinand and Terry have been the preferred defensive partnership in training at United's Carrington headquarters since Tuesday and Campbell is therefore expected to discover that his seamless return to club football has not been replicated at international level when Eriksson announces his team to face the Austrians.

Jamie Carragher and Ferdinand were paired in Belfast, when the latter was partly at fault for David Healy's winner but, with the Liverpool man poised to rekindle his career at left-back in the wake of Ashley Cole's fractured foot and Terry in imperious form for Chelsea, Ferdinand will be granted a reprieve, with Campbell's recent inactivity due to calf, ankle and Achilles injuries placing his England comeback on hold.

Ferdinand's inclusion indicates Eriksson would prefer to capitalise on his squad's desire to remedy recent performances, which reached their nadir against Lawrie Sanchez's side, rather than oversee a cull of his underperforming players at such a critical juncture in qualifying for Germany next summer.

"I know he was criticised for the two goals at Fulham. I saw them on TV and Tord was at the game," the Swede said. "But I've seen many games this season and I think he [Rio] is playing well. If you take this season I would say that England as a team haven't performed at the level we should do. With Rio, I don't think you can say it is one player's fault, it is the team's fault. I think he played well for England when England performed well last season. We can see that we haven't performed well this season against Denmark and Northern Ireland."

Only Michael Owen did not train yesterday, as he recovers from the dead leg that forced him out of Newcastle's draw at Portsmouth last weekend. However, he reported no ill-effects from a day of intensive treatment from the England head physio, Gary Lewin, and, with David Beckham joining the squad from Spain last night, Eriksson has only the injured Cole and the suspended Wayne Rooney unavailable for Saturday.

Peter Crouch is favourite to partner Owen at Old Trafford, a decision that will increase the frustration felt by Jermaine Defoe over his lack of international opportunities. The Tottenham striker was substituted at half-time in the 4-1 friendly defeat by Denmark and then saw Rooney played as a lone striker against Wales before a belated chance against Northern Ireland as a 76th-minute replacement for Steven Gerrard.

Defoe worked on improving his all-round game with the Spurs manager Martin Jol during the close season with a World Cup place in mind, but he admits his prospects are receding with every passing international fixture.

"Everything is going well at club level but that hasn't been the case for England," said the striker, who turns 23 tomorrow. "I've been playing regularly for Tottenham and only getting 20 minutes off the bench for England and that is a factor. I would have liked to have stayed on against Denmark but that wasn't the case, although I would agree I haven't done myself justice for England ... but I feel I have contributed a lot more to Tottenham this season than goals and hopefully I will get another chance."