Injury Time

The World Cup is less than one week away, and some of the tournament’s potential stars are dropping like flies.

Many of the competing nations are reverting to plan B or even plan C operations, after losing important players to injuries on the eve of the competition.

Emerson

This is by no means a new phenomenon. Who can forget the dislocated shoulder suffered by Brazilian captain Emerson before the 2002 World Cup, or Ledley King’s absence through injury from England’s squad four years ago.

It seems every major tournament is preceded by a spate of injuries, and this year the pre-World Cup curse seems to have hit countries even harder than usual.

In this post I will look at some of the players struck down in recent weeks, and consider how their absence will affect their countries.

England: Rio Ferdinand, Owen Hargreaves and David Beckham

The identity of two of England’s three major absentees comes as no great surprise, and Fabio Capello will surely have been preparing to embark on a World Cup campaign without messrs. Beckham and Hargreaves for some time. Providing Gareth Barry recovers from his own injury problems before Saturday’s opening fixture in Rustenberg, the group C favourites should be able to cope.

Rio Ferdinand

The knee ligament damage suffered by their captain is, however, a far different story.

Fans and players alike hoped Ferdinand had recovered from the various ailments which have plagued him all season, but now they will need to rely on Ledley King, who has himself only played 59 times for his club Tottenham in the last three seasons. Doubts remain over King’s ability to play so many games in such a short space of time, and there is a strong chance England will have to call upon the out-of-form Matthew Upson or the inexperienced Michael Dawson. Ferdinand’s injury is certainly a setback, but it remains to be seen whether England have the ammunition to deal with it.

Germany: Michael Ballack, Simon Rolfes, Heiko Westermann and Rene Adler

While England have players in reserve who may be capable of stepping in for those injured in their World Cup preparations, the same may not be said of their potential second-round opponents Germany.

The ankle ligament damage suffered by Michael Ballack was always going to be significant, but the damage might have been lessened if Simon Rolfes was able to step in. Instead, the absence of the experienced Bayer Leverkusen man leaves the German midfield looking rather thin.

Of the six midfielders remaining, only Bastian Schweinsteiger and Piotr

Mesut Ozil

Trochowski have more than 10 caps to their name. Joachim Low will now be relying on the youthful energy of the likes of Mesut Ozil and Marko Marin to drag his side out of a tough first-round group.

With the squad so lacking in experience, the cool head of Heiko Westermann would have helped calm Low’s troops, but he too is out, suffering a broken foot in a friendly against Hungary. And Adler, enjoying a good season at Leverkusen and becoming his country’s first choice goalkeeper after the tragic suicide of Robert Enke last November, will also miss out with a broken rib. While England may cope without important players, Germany will face an altogether tougher task to see off Serbia, Australia and Ghana and advance to the second round.

And the rest…

Cote d’Ivoire’s hopes of advancing through the so-called ‘Group of Death’ suffered a massive blow after captain Didier Drogba broke his arm against Japan. He faces a race against time to feature, and if he fails to make it then it is difficult to see Sven Goran Eriksson’s squad getting past Brazil and Portugal in group G.

Michael Essien

If Ghana want to repeat their achievements of four years ago, when they fell in the second round, they will have to do so without talisman Michael Essien.

An increasingly-important player for the Black Stars with captain Stephen Appiah’s own injury issues, Essien has failed to recover from a long-standing knee problem which curtailed his Premier League campaign with Chelsea.

Essien’s club team-mate John Obi Mikel will also be watching the tournament from the sidelines, with a knee injury keeping him out of Nigeria’s squad. While perhaps a bit-part player for Chelsea, Mikel is integral to his country’s form, and his calming influence in front of the back four will be missed.

With only five days remaining until the start of the tournament, I leave you with K’naan’s ‘Waving Flag’, the official anthem of the tournament in South Africa.

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