Ferdinand returns to England fold
Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has been included in Roy Hodgson's latest England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro.
Ferdinand has not played for England in nearly two years, with the last of his 81 international caps coming against Switzerland in June 2011.
In October 2012, Hodgson had appeared to call time on Ferdinand's England career - after controversially revealling to fellow passengers on the London Underground that he would not pick the central defender again.
However, the retirement of John Terry and current injury to Phil Jagielka - along with the lack of playing time for Manchester City's Joleon Lescott - has led to a turnaround from the former West Brom boss, with Spurs centre-back Michael Dawson also named in the squad for the first time in Hodgson's tenure. Dawson last represented the Three Lions against Wales in March 2011.
Having been selected in the squad, Hodgson indicated Ferdinand could well start against San Marino on March 22, and in Podgerica four days later.
"I've been following him for quite a while now," Hodgson said. "Obviously he's playing well, and I think this is the moment to select him because he clearly deserves it on his current form. I think he can help us win these next two matches.
"A player of Rio's calibre, and his age, you don't necessarily bring them into a squad as back-ups. You bring them into the squad - or the team - because you think they are going to make the team better. It would not be guesswork to say now he's in the squad, he's in to play."
On Ferdinand's long-term prospects, Hodgson added: "At the moment we are a little bit deprived of centre-backs. I think he's the right man to help us in these games, and probably the games ahead.
"2014 is a long way away, but if he is still playing he is a major candidate for [the World Cup squad]."
Goalkeeper Ben Foster is also in the 26-man list as, alongside Celtic shotstopper Fraser Forster, the West Brom goalkeeper once again provides competition for Joe Hart. Foster had previously asked to be excluded from international consideration in order to spend more time with his family - before changing his stance in recent weeks.
Ferdinand's United team-mate Wayne Rooney is included despite some uncertainty surrounding his future at club level, while Hodgson acknowledged the setback of being without the injured Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere.
"We're disappointed to lose Jack Wilshere, but it's unfortunate after playing so well in the last game against Brazil," Hodgson noted. "I was excited about the prospect of using them in these two games."
Meanwhile, the England boss is confident Ferdinand's return to the squad will not cause conflict with Chelsea left-back Ashley Cole.
Ferdinand and Cole are believed to have a frosty relationship, with Ferdinand reportedly angry after the latter gave evidence in defence of club team-mate John Terry, when Terry was accused of racially abusing Rio's brother, Anton, during a match.
"I don't envisage any problems," Hodgson said, of the potentially thorny issue. "I'm hoping their long-term friendship will re-emerge."
England are currently second in Group H after four games, having won two and drawn two of their qualifiers so far, with Montenegro top of the standings by two points.
England squad to face San Marino and Montenegro
Goalkeepers:Ben Foster, Joe Hart, Fraser Forster.
Defenders: Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker.
Midfielders: Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Leon Osman, Scott Parker, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young.
Forwards: Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck.