Lampard backs Rio to return
20 March 2013, 08:57
London - Frank Lampard believes that Rio Ferdinand has not yet played his last game for England, despite the defender having withdrawn from the national squad this week.
England manager Roy Hodgson had called Ferdinand up for the first time for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro, only for the 34-year-old to pull out, citing fitness concerns.
Ferdinand won the last of his 81 caps in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland in June 2011.
Despite his withdrawal, the Manchester United centre-back insists that he still wishes to represent his country, and Lampard says his current form means he deserves an opportunity.
"He's a top-drawer player, Rio, and he's certainly not finished," Lampard told a press conference at England's St George's Park training base in Burton upon Trent, central England.
"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's one of the top defenders in the Premier League for sure."
With Ferdinand's fellow centre-backs Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill all currently nursing injuries, Lampard said the timing of his former West Ham United team-mate's withdrawal was unfortunate.
"(I was) sorry for him and the team. He's been in fantastic form," the Chelsea midfielder 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."
However, Lampard, who is also 34, said he understood Ferdinand's motives.
"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," he said.
"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."
England visit Group H's bottom side San Marino on Friday, followed by a trip to group leaders Montenegro the following Tuesday.
Hodgson's side are expected to make light work of minnows San Marino, but defeat by Montenegro would seriously undermine their chances of qualifying automatically for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
England beat Brazil 2-1 at Wembley in their previous outing in February and Lampard's fellow midfielder James Milner says it is important that they harness the momentum from that game.
"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 was big for us so that's a positive sign."
Despite expectations that England will prevail handsomely against San Marino, Milner says his side must approach the fixture with due care and attention.
"First and foremost we want to win and if we win by a few goals, that will give the team confidence," said the versatile Manchester City man.
"That memory then goes into the bank 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."