Ferdinand set to be England captain

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The Independent Football

Rio Ferdinand could emerge ahead of Gary Neville as the automatic England selection most likely to wear the captain's armband in the World Cup following David Beckham's injury last night. While both defenders are almost universally expected to start the first group match against Sweden on 2 June, Ferdinand has the advantage of regular experience as a club captain.

David O'Leary offered the 23-year-old Londoner that chance with Leeds United to help him mature, and has been well rewarded with a good job that has not affected Ferdinand's form. Neville, if anything a firmer character with plenty to say for himself on the pitch, has not had the same opportunities while playing under Roy Keane and Beckham.

Middlesbrough's Gareth Southgate, an excellent ambassador with good media skills – he is even renowned for writing his own newspaper columns – would be an obvious choice if his place in the side could be guaranteed, but he appears to be in contention with another rival for the captaincy in Sol Campbell, whose form has been inconsistent since his transfer from Tottenham to Arsenal last summer.

It is a long time since any England coach has had to consider an alternative to Beckham either as captain or for the position on the right of midfield that he has made his own. The Manchester United man has started all of Sven Goran Eriksson's 12 matches, plus the previous one, away to Italy, under Peter Taylor, when he wore the armband for the first time.

The last time he was missing was for Howard Wilkinson's one match in charge, away to Finland in October 2000, immediately after Kevin Keegan's resignation. Beckham had a knee injury on that occasion so Martin Keown was captain for one game. His Arsenal club-mate, Tony Adams, had done the job before that, but he has long since retired from international football – like the Euro 2000 captain, Alan Shearer – and injury has hampered Keown, who will be grateful just to make the final squad.

Beckham's ever-present record under the current manager means that the only opportunities to see anyone else play wide on the right of Eriksson's 4-4-2 formation have come on the infrequent occasions when he has been substituted. Those have tended to be in matches like the home defeats by the Netherlands and Italy in which the large number of replacements have rendered the second half of the game, without Beckham and so many others, almost meaningless.

A vacancy in the squad – and indeed starting line-up – would offer renewed hope to Tottenham's Darren Anderton, who has recently moved from the centre of midfield to his old, wider position since Spurs switched to a 4-4-2 formation, and to Steve McManaman, who must be fearing he is out of mind as well as out of sight in Madrid. Of those picked more recently, West Ham's Trevor Sinclair is one of few natural attacking right-wingers.

The need for Newcastle's Kieron Dyer to prove his fitness has become more important than ever, though he would ideally be used to fill the longer-standing problem on the left. Switching him to the right leaves that problem unresolved unless there is any truth in rumours that Graeme Le Saux of Chelsea will at last be given a chance in the match against Paraguay next Wednesday.

Others who would hope to benefit from a reshuffling of resources will include players normally more at home in the centre of midfield like Joe Cole, Manchester United's Nicky Butt, Liverpool's Danny Murphy and Owen Hargreaves of Bayern Munich. It will all make Eriksson's announcement of the 11 names to start against Paraguay eagerly awaited.

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