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World Cup stars dropping like flies as Mikel joins injured list

Is it just me, or is this World Cup becoming particularly notable for the number of star names missing through injury before it has even started?

England‘s odds of capturing the Jules Rimet trophy lengthened distinctly yesterday when captain Rio Ferdinand, who has already suffered an injury-hit season with Manchester United, was forced to withdraw when he damaged knee ligaments in training on Friday. With David Beckham and Michael Owen already excluded through injury over the past few months (although the latter was unlikely to feature in the final squad anyway), it leaves Fabio Capello‘s side short of key experienced players. Although, in spite of that, none of the other 31 teams has a squad with an average age higher than England’s.

Capello bemoaned the curse of the England captaincy, saying:

All the players who are here with me are important. But he is one of the starting players: the captain, a leader.

Ferdinand’s departure – Tottenham‘s Michael Dawson has already arrived to replace him – leaves England thin on cover in the heart of their defence, with both John Terry and Ledley King injury-prone, Jamie Carragher just back from self-imposed exile, and with both Dawson and Matthew Upson lacking major tournament experience.

Almost simultaneous to the Ferdinand story, news broke of Didier Drogba being ruled out of the World Cup with what was initially diagnosed as a fractured elbow, sustained during Ivory Coast’s friendly with Japan. However, that initial prognosis now appears slightly premature. While it seems certain he will miss some if not all of the group phase, coach Sven-Goran Eriksson told the BBC:

He may have an operation, but he is not out. He got a bad injury, a bone close to the elbow is broken, but he is going to a specialist and we will take it from there. We will wait until Saturday evening. The doctors can’t say any more than that.

To an ever-growing casualty list which has already claimed stars such as France‘s Lassana Diarra (stomach injury) and threatens to deprive the tournament of, among others, Italy‘s Andrea Pirlo (struggling to overcome a calf problem), we can now also add Nigeria‘s John Obi Mikel. Mikel was ruled out this morning, having not recovered sufficiently from minor knee surgery last month to claim his place. He is, by my count, the fifthChelsea player – after Drogba, Ghana‘s Michael Essien, Portugal‘s Jose Bosingwa and Germany‘s Michael Ballack – to be absent (or, in Drogba’s case, be on the verge of it) from the World Cup.

It’s hard to tell if this run of injuries is just bad luck, or whether it is indicative of the stresses and strains of a long season in a game which makes greater physical demands of professional athletes than ever before. Either way, it is a shame that the one of sport’s great spectacles will now be taking place with so many of its leading lights absent. Let’s just hope the injury list doesn’t lengthen any further over the next few days.

EDIT: Less than two hours later … Holland‘s Arjen Robben – a man not unfamiliar with treatment rooms the length and breadth of Europe – limps off near the end of Holland’s friendly with Hungary with a hamstring problem. Add the former Chelsea and Real Madrid winger to the ‘questionable’ list.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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