Only six days until the big kick off in South Africa …
The World Cup finals always provide a feast of football to keep us fans happy over the normally dull summer months. I’ve been looking forward to the 2010 version for a very long time, and now it’s almost here.
So all of the fixtures are now in my calendar. I’ve arranged things as best I can to minimise the number of games I won’t be able to see live. My seat on the couch is ready. Let’s play!
But even before a ball is kicked there has been World Cup heartbreak. Now I know that footballers get paid an obscene amount of money. And I understand that many still have transfers on their minds rather than internationals. For some thought the World Cup dream is over before it even started. And that’s got to hurt, no matter how healthy your bank balance might be.
I want to watch all of the best teams and all of the best players that the world has to offer. So it is disappointing that some big names won’t be playing.
Italy will be without AC Milan’s midfield playmaker Andrea Pirlo. His calf injury in a friendly against Mexico takes away the main creative influence that the Italians had. I didn’t fancy them to reach the final stages of the tournament anyway, and this could be the final nail in the holders’ coffin.
Germany will be without its captain after Chelsea’s Michael Ballack suffered ligament damage in the FA Cup final. They will undoubtedly miss his leadership and his goals.
The Germans have also lost first choice goalkeeper Rene Adler of Bayer Leverkusen with a serious rib injury. His club team mate midfielder Simon Rolfes will also be missing with a knee injury.
The curse of the England captaincy should perhaps worry Steven Gerrard, who will now wear the armband. John Terry was captain and we all know why it was taken off him. Former captain David Beckham tore his Achilles tendon playing for Milan and misses the tournament. He wouldn’t have started but is always a useful man to have on the bench.
And now Rio Ferdinand has suffered a knee injury in training. Rio has had a number of injuries recently, so this is perhaps not a major shock. And his form has been poor enough to leave many England fans thinking that his absence won’t weaken the team substantially. But the loss of a captain so close to the tournament must have an effect.
England’s first opponent, the USA, has also suffered. First choice striker Charlie Davies was ruled out after a car crash. Also out of the tournament is key defender Oguchi Onyewu, who suffered a serious knee injury. He will be a real loss to the side. Another striker Joey Altidore is struggling with an ankle injury, but should recover in time.
Ghana won’t be able to call on Michael Essien, another Chelsea player and another captain. He has been out with a long term knee injury for much of the season and has failed to regain fitness in time. They will miss their inspirational midfielder and will struggle to qualify for the second stage.
Perhaps the biggest loss to the tournament is Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast, yet another Chelsea player, who suffered a broken arm in a warm up match this week. They will miss his goals and his strength up front. In a difficult group with Brazil and Portugal, this could be a fatal blow for the African side that looked the best hope of a local team making the knock out stages.
And there are many other stars who are carrying injuries.
Brazil will wait anxiously to see whether goalkeeper Julio Cesar will overcome a back injury. Cesar is rated by many as the best keeper in the world, and it is rare for the Brazilians to produce such a fine shot stopper. For once they have a decent defence and will be keen for Cesar to play his part.
Spain’s Fernando Torres is still recovering from knee surgery. He is expected to be fit but with Spain in a weak group it wouldn’t be a disaster if he missed the start of the tournament. Cesc Fabrigas, who Barcelona are so keen to sign, should also be fit but has missed a lot of football and may not be at his sharpest.
There will inevitably be other injuries during the tournament, and suspensions can also cause teams to be without key players at the business end of the tournament. But to miss the whole show must be a devastating blow for many of these players. And several of them are heading towards the end of their careers, so there won’t be another opportunity in four years’ time.
Let’s hope that injuries and red cards don’t play a big part in South Africa’s World Cup. And that it is the showcase for football that we all want to see.
Time to do my predictor entry now: only 64 results to forecast!