LONDON (AFP) - England captain Steven Gerrard has refused to condemn the fans who taunted Rio Ferdinand in San Marino following the Manchester United defender's controversial withdrawal from the squad.
Ferdinand was called up by Roy Hodgson for the World Cup qualifiers in San Marino and Montenegro after previously being ignored by the England coach.
But the 34-year-old turned down the chance to add to his 81 caps, claiming he was unable to join up with the England squad as it would disrupt his detailed pre-planned training and medical programme.
Some speculated that Ferdinand's decision was in part provoked by a desire to get revenge for Hodgson's decision to select John Terry ahead of him earlier in his reign when the two players were at loggerheads over Terry's alleged racist abuse of Rio's brother, the QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.
But it was Ferdinand's decision to travel to Doha to appear as a television pundit for Al Jazeera Sport, who were covering the qualifier, that seems to have especially irked the 3,000 England supporters who travelled to San Marino to watch Friday's 8-0 victory.
A constant stream of anti-Ferdinand chants were heard during the match in Serravalle and rather than condemn the chants, Gerrard, rested for the match, acknowledged fans were entitled to their opinions.
Quoted in several national newspapers, the Liverpool midfielder said: "I think the fans have shown their frustration about Rio not being here.
"They're entitled to their opinion. They pay good money to come over here.
"We all wanted Rio here because he's a good player and he certainly would have helped us over these two games.
"But he's made his decision and we need to respect that."
The constant focus on the Ferdinand issue from fans and media alike has irritated Hodgson, who feels it shows a lack of respect for Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling, who filled the central defensive roles against San Marino.
With Ferdinand absent, Terry retired from international duty and Gary Cahill injured, Lescott and Smalling will feature against Montenegro and Hodgson said: "Let's show respect for the young Smalling and the not-so-young, but tried and tested Joleon Lescott.
"I am not exactly putting a couple of lads from non-league football out there on Tuesday.
"Joleon was a champion of England at Manchester City last season and Chris is playing for Manchester United.
"I think we should show them a bit more respect and not constantly compare them with John Terry.
"We could be talking about (former England defenders) Roy McFarland and Colin Todd. How far back do you want us to go?"