Rio will play for England again, says Frank Lampard
MIDFIELDER Frank Lampard believes Rio Ferdinand still has an England future despite the Manchester United defender pulling out of Roy Hodgson's squad this week.
Hodgson selected Ferdinand for the first time for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro, only for the 34-year-old to withdraw, citing the disruption it would cause to his fitness programme.
Ferdinand insisted he still wanted to be considered for England and Lampard believes it would be hard to overlook his former West Ham team-mate on current form.
"He's a top-drawer player Rio, and he's certainly not finished," he told a press conference televised on Sky Sports News.
"Looking at his performances against (Real) Madrid, especially away, he was outstanding.
"Regular performances week-in and week-out, he's a top performer, has been and still is.
"I don't know the ins and outs of his future but the way he's playing at the minute he one of the top defenders in the Premier League for sure."
Lampard admitted Ferdinand's withdrawal had been a blow.
"(I was) sorry for him and the team, he's been in fantastic form," he said.
"We're losing a player of quality. As I said, now it's very important that the squad gets the results that it needs so there are no personal issues - it's about all of the team."
England sit second in Group H but will be short on experience at the back after Gary Cahill was ruled out of Friday's trip to San Marino.
The Chelsea defender could still play a part against group leaders Montenegro four days later but Lampard dismissed thoughts of a defensive crisis.
"It happens, these are the moments when you need a strong squad," he said.
"It sometimes happens when you lose two, three or four players from the same position.
"That would probably affect any squad in the world and we're probably fortunate that we've got some very good young players. It will be time for those players to stand up.
"I'm sure they can do it because they do it regularly."
Lampard also said he understood the reasons for Ferdinand's withdrawal, acknowledging that older players need to take extra care as they look to prolong their careers.
The 34-year-old: "Being one of the older lads, once you pass 30 years of age you have to manage yourself differently, maintain yourself, train more, train less, rest periods...particularly lads who have picked up injuries.
"I know Rio picked up a few injuries earlier in his career and he's been very disciplined in keeping on top of himself to make sure he gets the most out of his career, so a lot of respect for that, and everyone is different."
The upcoming qualifying double-header offers Lampard the chance to edge closer to the 100-game milestone with England.
The Chelsea stalwart currently has 94 caps and he is hoping to get the opportunity to match team-mates Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole, who both recently brought up a century of appearances for the Three Lions.
Lampard said: "I'm here and ready to be involved, hopefully in both games. It's up to the manager. I'll keep going and kicking on and see if I can pick up more caps.
"I watched Steven do it, watched Ashley do it, it should be a very proud moment. I'm also very proud of what I've already done.
"I try to take it game by game and if I get there I'll be very proud."
England head into the latest round of qualifiers lying two points behind Montenegro in Group I, with San Marino bottom of the table without a point or a goal from their four matches so far.
With their next qualifier not until September, Lampard says it is vital England get as much as they can out of these two fixtures.
"(They are of) huge importance. The San Marino game we're expected to win and we have to win," he said.
"We then have to do a good job there (in Podgorica) with Montenegro being top of the group and us being away.
"We're aware of how tough a game it is out there from our last campaign.
"When you have that six-month gap afterwards you want to go into it sitting comfortably in the table so it's imperative we do our utmost to get the right results in both games."
Lampard also stressed the importance of keeping their discipline in both matches.
In England's last trip to Podgorica two years ago, during qualifying for Euro 2012, Wayne Rooney was famously sent off in a 2-2 draw which saw him suspended for the start of the European Championship finals.
Lampard said: "That (discipline) is always important. It's difficult because there's emotions in the game. The atmosphere from the crowd creates that more tense atmosphere on the pitch.
"We always try and be disciplined, the manager reminds us to be disciplined going into games and keeping 11 players on the pitch. So we'll try and do that again."
Midfielder James Milner also feels the double-header could have an important say in whether or not England go to the World Cup finals in Brazil.
Even if England claim an expected comfortable win in San Marino defeat in Podgorica could leave them with an uphill task to overhaul the group leaders.
"These two games are big games for us," he said.
"We've had a couple of results that we would have liked to turn into wins but haven't.
"The last result against Brazil (a 2-1 win) was big for us so that's a positive sign."
Looking ahead to the San Marino game, the Manchester City player said: "First and foremost we want to win and if we win by a few goals that will give the team confidence.
"That memory then goes into the bank for for Tuesday night and hopefully it can happen again.
"With the creative players that we have got hopefully we will get a goal early on and push on from there.
"These are the types of game you want to play in. San Marino we should beat them but they'll make it difficult for us.
"Even if we score a goal they are going to stay behind the ball. We just have to make sure we keep doing the right things and use the full width of the pitch."