Rio row has brought us together, says Beckham

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The Independent Football

The England captain David Beckham insists the Rio Ferdinand row has brought his team "closer together" for tomorrow night's Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey in Istanbul.

The Football Association sparked off a bitter dispute with the players by excluding Ferdinand from the England squad for failing to attend a routine drugs test.

After a series of meetings on Wednesday, amid fears that England's players would boycott the Turkey game in protest, the squad backed down and agreed to fly to Istanbul – albeit after drawing up a statement claiming they and Eriksson had been badly let down by the FA.

The FA blocked any questions on the Ferdinand affair at today's press conference in Istanbul. But Beckham, in a prepared statement, stressed that the dispute does not mean he and his fellow players are not proud to play for their country.

He said: "Obviously it has been a very difficult week for the players and the FA, and I'd like to make a few things clear.

"There have been many discussions, and these centred around support for Rio and our concerns about the way his case was handled.

"We fully recognise that Rio should not have missed the first drugs test. But we've gone on record to say that what happened afterwards was what we were unhappy with as a squad.

"The issue is now a matter for the FA, and they have promised to look at how future cases are dealt with.

"Please be assured that we are all now fully focused on the game and determined to win it and book our place in next summer's finals in Portugal.

"In a way this has brought the squad closer together, and we are even more determined to get a result here.

"I can assure you that every player is proud to be picked for his country and wear the England shirt.

"We will play our hearts out for our country and for ourselves and, I hope, we'll come out with the right result."

The England captain maintains his players will be fully focused on their task tomorrow night.

He told a press conference broadcast live on Sky Sports News: "I am more than convinced they are in the right frame of mind.

"In a weird way it has brought the squad closer together and has made me realise how close we are as a team.

"We are up for the game and will be focused and are proud to wear the England shirt."

Beckham knows form will count for nothing tomorrow, with such a big prize at stake.

"The statistics go out of the window," he said. "Draw or win – this is a massive game for both teams and we will be fighting for it."

The setting is set to be intense in Istanbul, and Beckham reflected: "You have to be as calm as you can. It is pretty hard in the atmosphere this game will be played in.

"It will be great in the stands and on the pitch as both teams are very patriotic and there is a massive prize we are both aiming for."

With Owen out injured, the responsibility for finding the net could well rest with Everton teenager Wayne Rooney.

And Beckham declared: "Wayne played well against Turkey before, when he was man of the match. Let's hope he does the same again. He has the ability to."

With no England fans officially allowed to travel to the match, there will be more than the usual number of supporters watching the game on television.

And Beckham revealed his side will show the England fans back home just how important playing football for your country is to the current squad.

He said: "Our fans are very passionate about winning and doing well. Once we are on the pitch, they will realise and see in our faces that we want to do well.

"The headlines will always be there whilst the wages are what they are, so we are prepared to take the criticism.

"But once we are on the pitch, people will realise how much football means to us."

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