Ferdinand, Rooney back for clash against Wales

LONDON: England welcome back their Euro 2004 sensation Wayne Rooney today in what should be a pulsating World Cup qualifier against Wales at the teenager’s new Old Trafford home. 

Rooney will not be the only player welcomed back to the international stage, though, as Sven-Goran Eriksson is expected to field his central defensive pairing from the 2002 World Cup. 

Rio Ferdinand has completed an eight-month ban for missing a drugs test and has impressed for United, while Sol Campbell has recovered from an Achilles injury, leaving no room for reliable stand-ins John Terry and Ledley King. 

Rooney, who lit up England’s campaign in Portugal with four goals in three group games, is back after a foot injury suffered in their quarter-final defeat in June by the host nation. 

Though England’s Group Six campaign hardly needs rescuing, after a 2-2 draw in Austria and a 2-1 victory in Poland last month, the 18-year-old’s comeback is bound to give them a lift. 

ITCHING FOR ACTION: England striker Wayne Rooney (left), midfielder Frank Lampard (centre) andgoalkeper David James limbering up during their training session at Old Trafford, Manchester,yesterday in preparation for today’s World Cup Group Six clash against Wales. – REUTERSpic

Expectations were already being raised after Rooney marked his Manchester United debut two weeks ago with a Champions League hat-trick at Old Trafford against Fenerbahce. 

Today, he is likely to start up front with Michael Owen, who should have shaken off a back injury, and in-form Jermain Defoe as coach Eriksson looks set to play with a three-man attack. 

England, trailing group leaders Austria on goal difference, will hope to be on top tonight – after the Austrians host Poland and before Wednesday’s qualifier in Azerbaijan. 

However, Eriksson’s men will be wary of taking anything for granted in a game that will pitch together Premier League friends and foes. 

United could well have four players on their home pitch – Ferdinand, Gary Neville and Rooney for England, against Wales winger Ryan Giggs. 

It will also be a nostalgic moment for captain David Beckham, now in his second season at Real Madrid after a career at United. 

Old Trafford also holds a special place in Beckham’s heart for England after his stoppage time free kick against Greece booked them into the 2002 World Cup. 

England’s Nicky Butt should also play his first game at the Theatre of Dreams since his close-season move to Newcastle United, standing in for injured midfielder Steven Gerrard. 

In the dugout, Wales’ outgoing coach Mark Hughes is a former Old Trafford favourite after two spells with United in which the striker won domestic and European honours. 

This fixture also has a special significance for Hughes, who scored the only goal when the two nations last met at Wrexham in 1984, before the home internationals were scrapped. 

That was their 97th and last meeting and represented a rare win for the Welsh, who have only beaten England 14 times since they first met in 1879. England have won 62 matches while 21 games were drawn. 

Wales will be without combative midfielder Robbie Savage through suspension, but the experience of Gary Speed and the dangerous runs of Giggs and Craig Bellamy will provide a real threat to Eriksson’s side. 

After disappointing draws with Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland, Welsh hopes of reaching their first major Finals since 1958 would get a huge boost if they upset the Group Six favourites on their own turf. 

Hughes, who has taken over at English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers and is facing his penultimate game in charge of Wales, could not get a better send-off. 

But their preparations have been sullied by reports that the Welsh players are upset about being paid just £300 (US$535) for playing in the match, while England’s players are earning £2,000 appearance money. – Reuters 

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