Ferdinand leads fight against complacency

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The Independent Online

Since regrouping this week for Saturday's decisive World Cup tie against Greece, Sven Goran Eriksson has been drumming into his England squad the importance of not taking qualification for granted. It is not an easy task. Even Germany, according to Franz Beckenbauer, believe England only have to turn up at Old Trafford to achieve the victory which will send them to Japan and South Korea next summer.

Thus Eriksson's fight against complacency. Yesterday, it became clear, he has a valuable ally in Rio Ferdinand, his centre-half of growing stature. Ferdinand, after believing too much of his own publicity earlier in his career, and paying the price, now takes nothing for granted.

The Leeds captain has played every competitive minute under Eriksson but he said: "I don't feel an accepted part of the team and hope I never do. I want to keep a mentality in which I am always on my toes and always have to prove myself."

Ferdinand, having been acclaimed when he made his England debut as a teenager, was left out of the squad for Euro 2000 three years later. He added: "There has already been a point in my career where I was complacent and I don't want that to creep in again. I am always on the edge of my chair just waiting to hear if I am in the squad. If you start believing you are in the team that is the beginning of your downfall."

The same applies to matches and Ferdinand added: "We have worked so hard in recent games that to throw it away in the last one would be silly. For some people it will be their last opportunity to play at a World Cup, for others the first. It is the second for me but in 1998, although I was in the squad, I didn't play. It was a nice taster to get there and everyone said 'you are only young' but you want to be involved. You know it might be the last time."

It was for Les Ferdinand, who was also not called on, but the third member of the 22 not to get a kick has a second chance. That was Martin Keown and, as he is likely to partner Rio Ferdinand in central defence on Saturday, there will be no shortage of motivation from the back.

In front of them will be Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool midfielder, who is seeking to play at his first World Cup, had a similar message. "The most dangerous thing we can do is to go into the game thinking the hard work is done," he said. "It is important we do not get carried away by the results against Germany and Albania."

Gerrard, to general relief, underwent a full training session yesterday. So did Steve McManaman (hamstring) while David Seaman (shoulder) and Nicky Butt (ribs), the other injury concerns, had light work-outs.

The session was moved from The Cliff, Manchester United's old training ground now used by their juniors, to the more spacious environs of Carrington, their new one. England will switch to Carrington again today, begging the question why they ever planned to spend the week at The Cliff, with its limited space and cramped surroundings, instead of the purpose-built Carrington?

It was a rare false note in Eriksson's preparation and was probably not down to him. Little else is left to chance with his preference for club "blocs" typical of his use of short cuts to circumvent the limited time he has had at the helm.

To this end it appears increasingly likely he will opt for a club partnership to fill the void left by Michael Owen in attack. In training the Liverpool team-mates Emile Heskey and Robbie Fowler have been working together, as have the past-and-present Manchester United coupling of Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole.

The former pair seem more likely to start primarily because of Eriksson's uncommon enthusiasm for Heskey. Even Cole, having spoken with feeling yesterday of the pain of being second choice at club level, admitted he would probably be sat on Old Trafford's all-too-familiar bench again.

Ferdinand, having faced all four contenders in the Premiership, was full of praise for each of them. He said: "There's not much between them. Teddy asks a lot of questions of defenders with the positions he takes up; Robbie's goalscoring talent is frightening; Emile is strong, scoring goals and always improving; and Andy is as sharp as they come."

This weekend they are Nikos Dabizas's problem. Ferdinand may occasionally supplement the attack – "you have to choose the right time to step out, I used to force it" – but will mainly be concentrating on defence. Again, nothing can be assumed. England may have routed Germany in Munich but had an uncomfortable first 15 minutes. They have not been forgotten Ferdinand admitted. It is, he hopes, another lesson learned.

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