ST ALBANS (England): Angry England players launched a bitter attack on the FA on Wednesday after agreeing to go ahead with Saturday's crucial Euro 2004 clash against Turkey despite their rage at the axing of Rio Ferdinand.
The Manchester United defender was dropped from the team after he failed to undergo a drugs test last month, but his teammates accused the FA of letting them and coach Sven-Goran Eriksson down.
The squad insisted there had never been any serious question mark over their participation in Saturday's match in Istanbul where they need at least a draw to qualify for next year's finals in Portugal.
However, they made it clear just how badly they feel Ferdinand was treated, saying he was entitled to confidentiality and a 'fair' hearing in front of an independent commission.
We believe the people responsible for making that decision did not give Rio Ferdinand that due process, which has disrupted and made the team weaker against the wishes of the manager and the players.
All the England players are proud to wear the England shirt and would never have let England, Sven-Goran Eriksson or our magnificent fans down, the statement said.
We apologise to our manager, staff and fans for any concerns that may have arisen over the last few days in our minds there's never been any question as to whether we would play in this game.
The players had been demanding that Ferdinand be reinstated but that request was dismissed out of hand by the FA.
Had England refused to play the match, they would have been disqualified from the European championships but Ferdinand is believed to have called on his teammates to play the game.
Rio has had a number of telephone calls with his England team mates and he has begged them to go ahead with the game in Turkey, a source told Channel Four news.
Mark Palios, the chief executive of the FA, said the players had made it clear how unhappy they were with the situation.
This is a big match and Rio is an important player. We have held several meetings and discussed the issues with Rio being left out of the squad, said Palios.
We have heard what the players have had to say on Rio's situation and the general situation of anti-doping rules. We've listened carefully to them and they have some very strong views.
I have to work with the procedures currently in place and we've already started a comprehensive review of these.
Some people have raised issues regarding confidentiality - rightly a key issue.
Eriksson said he was pleased the saga had come to an end.
I am very happy that everything has been sorted out and that from tomorrow we can focus 200% on football. The players have shown their strength as a group and I think we will see that on Saturday in Turkey.
According to media reports earlier on Wednesday, four of Ferdinand's Manchester United team-mates - Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers, Gary and Phil - plus captain David Beckham, Michael Owen, Sol Campbell and David James met Palios late on Tuesday.
After they failed to convince him to reinstate Ferdinand, the reports said rest of the squad voted unanimously to pull out of Saturday's match. AFP