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Hunter: Neymar has a tough choice

La Liga
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Rio Ferdinand defends Qatar trip

Rio Ferdinand has defended his decision to fly out to Qatar in the week he withdrew from the England squad in order to follow a pre-planned fitness routine.

Manchester United defender Ferdinand was called up by England manager Roy Hodgson for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro but pulled out on Monday, citing the need to follow the fitness plan laid out by his club.

The 34-year-old will visit the Aspire training academy in Doha and then appear as a pundit for Al Jazeera television in the Gulf state for the San Marino match Friday.

Ferdinand wrote on Twitter: "1) Flown out for some pre-planned downtime...with a bit of punditry thrown in for a game I would have watched anyway.

"2) No different from what I done on the last 10day international break...thank you guys.

"Haters are gonna hate...also assume everything...although it must be the gospel truth based on assumptions!"

Ferdinand's call-up, which came as a surprise to the player and his club, was his first involvement with the national team since he won his 81st cap in a Euro 2012 qualifier at home to Switzerland in June 2011. The defender was controversially left out of the squad for the finals in Poland and Ukraine last summer, with England manager Roy Hodgson insisting it was for football reasons.

The Ferdinand family had been at the center of a long-running racism row with John Terry, who was picked for Euro 2012 but has since retired from international football, and the Manchester United player believed that was the real reason behind his omission.

Hodgson was keen to stress on Monday that the door remained open to Ferdinand for future matches, and he reaffirmed his desire to play for England again. The defender said: "One thing I made clear was that my passion and commitment to represent my country is as strong as ever.

"It is disappointing that I won't be able to play a part in the upcoming games but I told Roy that I want to continue to be available for England and I look forward to working with him in the future."

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