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Manager defends Ferdinand stance

ROY Hodgson last night attempted to draw a line under the Rio Ferdinand saga when he insisted he wouldn't have insulted the Manchester United centre-half by asking him to go on the stand-by list.

The England squad met the media in Krakow before flying to Donetsk in Ukraine for their Euro 2012 opener against France tomorrow, with the agenda still dominated by the manager's decision to omit the Manchester United defender from his squad for "football reasons" and then bring in other players ahead of him when injuries hit.

The backdrop is, of course, John Terry's alleged racist abuse of Ferdinand's brother Anton during a Chelsea-QPR match last season, but Hodgson insisted that his decision to omit Ferdinand was mainly based on the fact he had only made three England appearances in two years.

He claimed the question of whether selecting both Terry and Ferdinand would have created tensions in the squad was irrelevant because it was hypothetical.

"To be fair there was never any thought in my mind that I should call up Rio Ferdinand as a cover player because I don't think Rio Ferdinand is a player who comes to cover for players you have chosen," Hodgson said. "When you choose Rio Ferdinand, with 81 caps and all the experience he has, you choose him to put in your team.

"All my decisions are put together on football reasons, quite frankly. Whether there would have been tension in the squad or not I have no idea, but that had no part in my thinking. It is an irrelevant question because the two players are not together in the squad. I made my decision and there is no reason for me to go back on it at all."

Ferdinand was quoted yesterday as saying he believed his England career may be over. Hodgson said: "He has no reason to be [fearful of his future]. All the time he keeps playing I will keep watching. If Rio is fully fit and playing well for Manchester United then of course he will always be a contender."

Whether Hodgson's comments are sufficient to put an end to the controversy remains to be seen, but England have more reason than most to want to get on with the football.

Hodgson will tell his players the starting XI for the Group D match against France at some point today, but most observers would suggest the team picks itself. His side have made a virtue of a cautious 4-4-1-1 formation to record single-goal victories in his two warm-up friendlies against Norway and Belgium.

Only James Milner (blisters) and full-back Martin Kelly (migraine) missed yesterday morning's closed-doors training session. Jermain Defoe took part after returning from his trip back to England following the death of his father.

Ferdinand's Old Trafford club-mate Ashley Young, who is likely to be deployed in a role behind lone striker Danny Welbeck, said the mood in the camp was good. He added that the compact, counter-attacking shape adopted by Hodgson has suited England well. "In the two games we've had under him, the organisation has been different from previous matches and I think it's helped," Young said. "The two 1-0 wins were good wins, especially with the way we kept our shape and managed to get forward and get the goals. Everybody in the squad is feeling confident."

Young declined to be drawn on the racism row that is threatening to overshadow events on the field at Poland and Ukraine. Black Holland players were allegedly subjected to monkey chants during an open training session on Wednesday.

Members of anti-racism body Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) also claimed Czech full-back Theoder Gebre Selassie was a target for abuse during Friday night's match against Russia. Young said: "It's disappointing but it's down to Uefa to deal with."

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