Richard Sutcliffe: Hodgson must bring Ferdinand in from cold to stay on track

WHETHER it is a first visit or – as was the case for yours truly on Wednesday night – the 32nd, that moment when you first emerge from Wembley Park tube station and glance up at the giant arch that best symbolises the rebuilt national stadium is a huge thrill.

England's Gary Cahill and Brazil's Junior Neymar

The historic events that helped make this otherwise unremarkable corner of north-west London famous around the globe may have come under the watchful gaze of the Twin Towers.

But even the most dewy-eyed of football romantics will surely have admitted the old place had had its day long before the demolition ball arrived a decade ago.

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Change had to come and while the near £800m cost of that change may have been eye-wateringly high, there can surely be little doubt that English football has a home stadium that, once again, is the envy of the world.

What a shame that the same cannot be said about the football team who call Wembley home.

Wednesday night’s win over Brazil was, admittedly, hugely encouraging as the five-time World Cup winners deservedly slipped to their first defeat against the Three Lions in 23 years.

But, as heartening as that friendly triumph was for the nation, a glance at where England’s World Cup qualifying campaign stands reveals just how much there is to do if next year’s finals are to be reached.

Roy Hodgson’s men sit second in Group H, two points behind leaders Montenegro. Draws against Ukraine at Wembley and Poland in Warsaw have inflicted serious damage in the attempt to reach Brazil with the trip to Podgorica on March 26 already shaping up to be a fixture that could go a long way towards deciding England’s fate.

Lose, for instance, at the ground where Wayne Rooney was sent off in the final group Euro 2012 qualifier and Hodgson’s men will be in serious trouble with leaders Montenegro having already negotiated the tricky trip to Ukraine to return with a 1-0 win.

England and Montenegro are in action four days before that March 26 meeting – against San Marino and Moldova, respectively – and it would be a major surprise if both did not emerge with resounding victories.

That would, if England lose in Podgorica, leave Hodgson’s men five points behind with four games to play. That lead could then be stretched further in June, when England are without a fixture but Montenegro host Ukraine.

A worrying time, therefore, for those hoping to follow the Three Lions to what will undoubtedly be a World Cup to remember in 2014.

What is just as worrying is Hodgson ignoring a player who would surely improve England’s chances of claiming the maximum 18 points from their remaining qualifiers to claim top spot.

Rio Ferdinand may have had his injury troubles over the past two years, but his form is at least as good as any of the other candidates for a place at the heart of the England defence.

Gary Cahill, he of the almighty blunder that gifted Brazil their goal, and Chris Smalling got the nod on Wednesday, but neither has performed as well in the Premier League as Ferdinand, whose return to form is why Manchester United are unlikely to make the same mistake as last year when rivals City were able to claw back an eight-point lead to lift the title.

The same can be said about Everton’s Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka, the other pair vying for a starting role against the Brazilians.

Hodgson, who explained away Ferdinand’s omission last year as being for ‘footballing reasons’ rather than the apparent breakdown in relations between the one-time Leeds defender and John Terry, has made no secret of his desire to move on.

That much was evident against Sweden late last year when Steven Caulker came in. Zlatan Ibrahmovic showed that experiment up for what it was by netting all four goals and Caulker did not even make the Under-21 squad this week.

Terry’s international retirement took away, in an instant, any reason – football or otherwise – for Ferdinand being omitted and the hope has to be that by the time of this correspondent’s next visit to Wembley for an England international in May when the Republic of Ireland are in town, Hodgson will have performed a U-turn.