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England vow to ‘play their hearts out’

Istanbul: England’s beleaguered football squad on Friday vowed to “play our hearts out” to ensure they get the right result in Saturday’s decisive Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey.

In a statement read out by captain David Beckham, the England players said they were determined to respond to the avalanche of criticism they have faced after threatening to boycott the match in protest at Rio Ferdinand’s exclusion from the squad for missing a drugs test.

“Please be assured that we are now totally focussed on tomorrow’s game,” the statement said. “This is the biggest game of the year and we aim to win it and qualify for Euro 2004 in Portugal.

“As a team we are aware of our responsibilities to our fans and in a strange way the events of this week have brought the squad closer together and made us even more determined to get a result here.”

The statement recognised that Ferdinand had been wrong to miss the drugs test and implicitly acknowledged that the prospect of millionaire footballers going on strike over the issue had not gone down well with the vast majority of England’s supporters.

“We do realise that we have something to prove and we will be playing our hearts out tomorrow for our fans, our country and ourselves and hopefully come away with the right result.”

A poll published on Saturday revealed that 70 per cent of English supporters backed the FA’s decision to drop Ferdinand from the squad while the players have been savaged in the Press as misguided at best and traitors at worst.

England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson said the threatened player strike would be forgotten during the match.

“The team are very much together,” Eriksson said. “What has happened has happened but I think the team has come out as strong as it was — maybe even stronger.

England’s fans have been barred from the match by the Football Association through fear of crowd trouble that could cost them their place.

“If you meet an opponent not concentrated you are very happy — that’s sport — but I can promise you that we will be very focused and concentrated on the pitch tomorrow,” said Eriksson.

Beckham said he and the other players were now concentrating fully on the match.

“The crisis has gone now,” he said. “In a strange way this has brought us closer together...but we do realise we have something to prove.

“There is a lot more pressure on us now as a team and as players but we are strong characters and we have to get through this,” Beckham added.

Eriksson declined to answer questions on the Ferdinand issue or reports that he has signed an agreement with Premier League club Chelsea to discuss a move if he quits England. “Nothing has changed in the last week (over his position),” said Eriksson.

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