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Almost 12 months since his withdrawal from an England squad led to his team-mates threatening industrial action, Rio Ferdinand on Sunday night returned to the national fold.

Having completed his eight-month ban for missing a drugs test 14 days ago, the Manchester United defender was restored at the first possible opportunity by coach Sven-Göran Eriksson for the World Cup qualifiers against Wales on Saturday and in Azerbaijan next week. He seems a certainty to start at the centre of the England defence, probably alongside Sol Campbell, who missed last month's matches in Austria and Poland through injury.

Eriksson has also made it clear that Wayne Rooney will be in his starting line-up after recovering from the broken foot he suffered at Euro 2004. Who plays up front alongside him will be a matter of much speculation this week. Michael Owen is struggling to get a game at Real Madrid - although he did start against Deportivo on Sunday night - while his closest rival for the England position, Jermain Defoe, has started the season well at Tottenham and scored a wonderful individual goal in the 2-1 win over Poland.

Definitely out of the squad is the injured Steven Gerrard whose place is taken by Nicky Butt. The Newcastle player doesn't have Gerrard's vision or range of passing but will occupy the holding role between defence and midfield.

Wayne Bridge is another absentee with a calf injury but it is significant that the England camp are hoping he can join the 23-man squad after treatment this week. If he does not recover the most likely replacement on the left of midfield will be his Chelsea team-mate Joe Cole who was watched by Eriksson on Sunday.

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