Sven-Göran Eriksson has named a familiar squad for England's opening EURO 2004™ qualifier against Slovakia and F.Y.R. Macedonia - including three returning Manchester United FC players.
Gary Neville leads that trio after recovering from the injury that kept him out of the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals, where England reached the quarter-finals, while captain David Beckham and his United club-mate Paul Scholes return after missing the friendly draw with Portugal last month.
Rio Ferdinand misses out as he prepares to undergo a knee operation, while his former Leeds United AFC colleague Paul Robinson continues to be preferred in goal to team-mate Nigel Martyn, having already taken his club place. Arsenal FC veteran David Seaman is expected to start as goalkeeper having been left out of the team to meet Portugal.
Jonathan Woodgate also remains in the squad after his recent recall, but fellow Leeds player Lee Bowyer is left out, as is Joe Cole - who joins the under-21 squad - and the injured Danny Murphy. The other notable absentee is veteran forward Teddy Sheringham, but Steven Gerrard returns after regaining fitness and Ugo Ehiogu and Frank Lampard are also both recalled.
England travel to meet Slovakia on 12 October, before hosting Macedonia at Southampton four days later. "These are big games as it is important to try and get a good start in qualification," Eriksson told the Football Assocation of England's official website. "Neither game will be easy, we know that, so it is good to have most players fit."
Chance for defenders
He added: "Losing Rio is obviously a blow and we all wish him a speedy recovery. However, we do have other very good defenders who are in form and it will be a chance for them to show what they can do. Both Ugo and Frank have made very good starts to the season. They are playing well and deserve to be included."
Seaman, James, Robinson, Mills, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville, Bridge, Southgate, Woodgate, Campbell, Ehiogu, Beckham, Butt, Dyer, Sinclair, Gerrard, Hargreaves, Lampard, Scholes, Owen, Heskey, Smith, Vassell.
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