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LONDON (Reuters) - Frank Lampard understands Rio Ferdinand's reasons for pulling out of the squad for England's forthcoming World Cup qualifiers and said his former West Ham United team mate remains one of the best defenders in the Premier League.
Ferdinand's withdrawal from the squad on medical grounds on Monday has provided the main talking point ahead of Friday's match in San Marino, with British newspapers labelling the situation a "farce" and a "humiliation" for coach Roy Hodgson.
Premier League chairman Dave Richards joined the debate, saying Ferdinand's pull-out, a couple of days after saying he would join the squad, brought the game into "disrepute".
Lampard said he still relished turning out for his country but respected Ferdinand's decision to opt out because of the need to manage a long-term back complaint.
"I was sorry for him and the team. He's been in fantastic form so losing players of quality, I'm sorry for him but the important thing is now we're here we get the results we need," Lampard told a news conference on Tuesday.
"There are no personal issues, it's about results now. When you're 30 or more you have to maintain yourself differently," Lampard said at the team's headquarters in Burton.
"Rio has picked up a couple of injuries earlier in his career and he's kept on top of himself."
With Lampard's Chelsea team mate John Terry no longer available for England and several pull-outs on top of Ferdinand's U-turn, England are lacking experienced personnel in the centre of their defence.
England, who are second in Group H and face leaders Montenegro in a week's time, could do with Ferdinand's experience for the tough trip.
Lampard believes Ferdinand, who has 81 caps, could still appear for England again but insists the absence of several players through injury would allow others to step up.
"(Rio's) a top drawer player, he is not finished, you could see that with his performances against Madrid, he is a top performer and at the minute is one of the top defenders in the Premier League," Lampard said.
"These are moments you need a strong squad. You lose two, three or four in the same position and that would test any country, but this it's a time for those young players to stand up. I believe in the squad and the players we've got in there.
"Sometimes little things like this make the squad focus even more."
While Ferdinand's international future is under a cloud, Lampard, with 94 caps, has set his sights on joining Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole in England's 100-club.
"You know it won't go on forever and I appreciate playing for my country more than ever," he said. "If I get to 100 I will be very proud.
"I really don't know if Rio will play for England again. I know he is a very determined and professional lad...but I've known great England players to retire from international football at 29 or 30 if it benefits their career."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, Editing by Tom Pilcher)