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Ferdinand seeks cure for Danish hangover

Tomorrow's World Cup qualifier against Wales gives the England centre-back the chance to atone for a humiliating defeat against Denmark. By Sam Wallace

David James paid the price for his part in the four goals conceded against Denmark on 17 August but, dissolving in the face of an unspectacular Danish attack, the defenders in front of him did not cover themselves in glory either. Against Wales in the World Cup qualifier tomorrow, the focus will switch naturally to Ferdinand, England's most senior centre-back who, by his own admission, sets his standards high and the conditions of his employment even higher.

Before Copenhagen, the 26-year-old had only just brought to an end the protracted and controversial negotiations over his future at United by signing a four-year deal when he was suddenly confronted with the possibility that his new status as Old Trafford's highest-paid player might coincide with his exclusion from the England team. It was serious enough for Eriksson to be in contact with the player to assure him that, however bad it was against Denmark, he was not facing exclusion.

"I had a chat with the manager to get a clear picture about stories in the papers [about being dropped]," Ferdinand said. "He's talked about our conversation and he told me he would tell me if he thought I should be left out or wasn't doing the job he wanted.

"I don't think I had a good game against Denmark by my own standards. I set my own standards very high and that was nowhere near them. It would have been difficult for the manager to single individuals out publicly. You do that behind closed doors. He's never done it publicly in the past and I don't think he would start now.

"Watching the video hit it home and showed us first-hand what the manager wasn't happy with. We fully agreed. We were disappointed and embarrassed at the performance and it's something you don't want to be involved with."

Frank Lampard has made the ascent to senior professional, Steven Gerrard too, yet it is still difficult to place Ferdinand at quite the same level. Just when he convinced United fans that he had earned his right to be regarded as the indispensable element of their defence last season, following his eight-month suspension for a missed drugs test, the issue of his contract exploded this summer. No one could overestimate the trauma of his ban but for Ferdinand, this season, and the World Cup that follows, is crucial to his legacy as a footballer.

"There is a hangover from a defeat like Denmark - ask any player about when they've had a bad game, it's still in there somewhere in the back of your mind," Ferdinand said. "When you get a good performance in the following game it puts it to rest a bit, but it's still there and it still hurts because you don't want to lose 4-1 to anybody whether you are playing for your country or your club.

"It's something we want to rectify when we play in the next game against Wales because in terms of the press and our own personal embarrassment it can all escalate and you don't want it on your conscience when you are playing football. You get a bad result - it is a natural reaction to want to go out the next time and do well.

"I think that is the reaction you will get from the team on Saturday. It's good we are playing again so quickly because the wounds are still open. They are still there and it is not so long ago we played that match."

In defence of Ferdinand, ever since he agreed a new contract with United on 8 August his performances have been peerless for his club side, not least the handling of Alan Shearer, who was restricted to just one shot in the 12th minute at St James' Park on Sunday. Ferdinand has also become Wayne Rooney's closest friend at United - a relationship that has caused a degree of concern at the club but will be a good test of whether the senior player can help guide his team-mate through the pitfalls of celebrity that await.

Ferdinand says that he is at his "happiest when we keep a clean sheet" and tomorrow he will be in charge of a forward who helped to shape much of his early career at West Ham. The Wales striker John Hartson would, Ferdinand said, "elbow, kick and head-butt me" - and that was just in training.

"I used to be up against him every day but it was a good upbringing for me, I enjoyed it," he said. Facing down the old Celtic warhorse is as good a way as any to atone for the defeat in Denmark.