Ferdinand and Campbell construct England's fortress

Glenn Moore@GlennMoore7
Sunday 08 December 2013 03:27
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Aki Riihilahti, Carsten Jancker, Patrick Kluivert, Alex Alexandersson. It is an eclectic list and, more pertinently for Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand, a very short one. Those four players are the only ones to score against England when Campbell and Ferdinand have been in harness.

The pair, who were outstanding against Argentina, have played together in 16 internationals with their partnership minutes, taking into account substitutions, adding to more than 11 full matches. It is an impressive record which, if extrapolated over a full Premiership season, would result in just 14 goals being conceded By comparison, Liverpool had the best Premiership defence last season, shipping 30.

Of the goals conceded, Riihilahti's came from a corner and Alexandersson's followed the mistake by Danny Mills. Jancker's in September, and Kluivert's, in February, could be blamed on the Campbell-Ferdinand partnership with a lack of communication the fault. This is one area where Gareth Southgate is superior, but Eriksson has been working, on getting Campbell, in particular, and Ferdinand talking more.

There are those, this observer among them, who have at times felt Southgate could be a better option than Campbell. This is because of his better distribution as well as his organisational abilities. Campbell started nervously against Sweden, but his goal gave him confidence and he more than justified his place against Argentina. Quicker and stronger than Southgate, he saw Gabriel Batistuta off before the hour and never gave Hernan Crespo, Batigol's replacement, a sniff at goal. "In the last 10 minutes Campbell and Ferdinand were so strong," said Sven Goran Eriksson yesterday. "The ball was coming in from everywhere, but they had many good headers."

Another crucial factor was that Campbell went through the game without making a single foul and Ferdinand made only one. Even more improbably, Mills and Ashley Cole committed only three between them on the flanks. This was telling in a tight match which, as Diego Simeone said later, was decided by who made least mistakes.

When these statistics were put to the England manager he was stunned. "The defence made only four fouls in the game? That is extremely good, better than I thought. The four defenders did excellently," he said. Then he paused, and added: "Really... four free-kicks in 90 minutes... that's very good."

In this respect Campbell is as much a modern defender as the more-regularly lauded Ferdinand. Neither player goes to ground easily, preferring to stay on their feet, and neither has been sent off in his senior career.

They were first paired in November 1997 when Ferdinand came on as a substitute early on against Cameroon. Campbell, an international since May 1996, was winning his 12th cap.

He now has 48, to Ferdinand's 24, having been a regular when fit and figuring in the 1998 World Cup. With Tony Adams the senior defender, and Campbell, Southgate and Martin Keown also barring the way, Ferdinand's appearances were more sporadic, especially after Glenn Hoddle departed, taking his preference for three central defenders with him. Ferdinand, who had remained on the bench throughout France 98, was omitted from Kevin Keegan's squad for Euro 2000. Recalled by Peter Taylor, he partnered Campbell in Eriksson's first match. The pair have remained the Swede's first-choice partnership appearing together in 10 of his 17 games.

It will not have escaped Southgate's notice that they have prospered since joining teams that are regularly in European competition. Assured of his place at West Ham, Ferdinand had a habit of letting his concentration slip. At Leeds, where he faced competition from, initially, Jonathan Woodgate, Lucas Radebe and Michael Duberry, he tightened his game to the extent he became captain when Radebe was injured. "He is as good as anyone," said Eriksson. "He is one of the best you can find on the market, and he will get better and better. He had a good season with Leeds and has always played very well for us."

Campbell was also in a comfort zone at White Hart Lane. As well as having to fight for his place with Adams and Keown, the move to Highbury tested his mental strength as he became a hate figure to Tottenham fans.

At Arsenal, Campbell has forged partnerships with David Seaman and Cole that he has taken into the England set-up, as Ferdinand has with Mills. After the Argentina match Cole paid tribute to Campbell and the other members of the back four for helping him through what he admitted had been a sticky patch in his nascent international career.

Sapporo was only the third time the back four had played together as a unit. The back five, including Seaman, only made their collective bow against Sweden. Eriksson, having praised them yesterday, added: "Good attacking starts with good defending. It is a vital part of the team."

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